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Infrastructure

Opposition grows against Mobile River toll bridge

Brandon Moseley

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The Alabama Department of Transportation is not holding many listening sessions to see what the people of Alabama are thinking about their proposed I-10 toll bridge connecting Mobile and Baldwin counties.

Since the Legislature passed enabling legislation for ALDOT to grant private toll operators the power to take away motorists’ automobile registrations for failing to pay a billed toll, opposition to the project has grown to include Congressman Bradley Byrne, R-Alabama, congressional candidates and the entire Mobile State House delegation.

Speaker Pro Tem Victor Gaston, R-Mobile, and Napoleon Bracy, D-Mobile, recently led a bipartisan legislative letter asking Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey to stop the toll bridge. State Auditor Jim Zeigler created a Facebook page to fight the toll bridge. That page has grown to a membership of 25,000 in just a few short weeks.

“The proposal to charge working folks $2,500 or more a year to cross Mobile Bay is irresponsible and economically damaging,” Zeigler said in a statement on his Block the Mobile Bayway Toll page. “This is the government’s bad idea of the decade. We citizens must rise up and block the Mobile BayWay $6 toll. I-10 is an Interstate highway serving many states. Other such bridges have no tolls. There are other options to pay for the I-10 bridge. This site is your campaign headquarters to block the toll. Join this group and share it with others. We will post steps here to BLOCK THE MOBILE BAYWAY TOLL.”

Zeigler is warning that using I-10 to enter or leave Mobile, which is currently free, via toll would just be the beginning for ALDOT handing over the infrastructure of the state to corporate interests to charge citizens for their use. All this comes after ALDOT recently abandoned a controversial plan to build a toll bridge across the Tennessee River.

APR asked Zeigler about a separate new toll road being proposed across Baldwin County that would connect I-10 with I-65 to speed up beach travel.

“We are looking at the amendment to be voted on for the Baldwin County express extension toll road,” Zeigler said. “It is a very different issue from the proposed I-10 toll. Baldwin County voters will get to decide the express extension toll plan. That is as it should be — a vote of the people.”

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“I wish that voters could decide the I-10 toll plan,” Zeigler said. “We would defeat it with 70 percent against. We have gained 23,000 members in our group, Block the Mobile Bayway Toll, in just two months. … The Mobile Bay $12.00 toll plan is only the first of many tolls coming to a road near you. Let’s stop this NEW TAX here and now.”

A spokesman for ALDOT has said that there will not be a project to build a Mobile River bridge unless it is tolled.

A $250 million grant application that ALDOT applied for the I-10 Bridge and causeway project was rejected by the U.S. Department of Transportation last year. The DOT also took back $27 million it had previously awarded ALDOT to fix the onramps to the Wallace tunnels, which are the current means by which I-10 motorists get across the Mobile River.

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On Monday, APR published a story on the new federal Opportunity Zones and how the state might use Opportunity Zone designation to improve the after-tax returns for investors who invest in these projects.

Proposed beach express toll road is in an Opportunity Zone

Brandon Moseley is a senior reporter with eight and a half years at Alabama Political Reporter. You can email him at [email protected] or follow him on Facebook. Brandon is a native of Moody, Alabama, a graduate of Auburn University, and a seventh generation Alabamian.

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Infrastructure

Trump Administration invests $462 million to modernize rural water and wastewater infrastructure

Brandon Moseley

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(STOCK PHOTO)

President Donald Trump’s administration announced Monday that the U.S. Department of Agriculture is investing $462 million to modernize critical drinking water and wastewater infrastructure across rural America.

“Upgrading the infrastructure that delivers safe drinking water and modern wastewater management facilities will improve public health and drive economic development in our small towns and cities,” said Deputy Under Secretary for Rural Development Bette Brand. “Under the leadership of President Trump and Agriculture Secretary Perdue, USDA continues to be a strong partner with rural communities, because we know that when rural America thrives, all of America thrives.”

USDA announced that it is funding 161 projects through the Water and Waste Disposal Loan and Grant Program. These investments will benefit 467,000 residents across the country. Alabama is one of the states that are slated to receive funding for water and wastewater projects. While it’s not yet known which projects are being funded in Alabama, some communities in the Black Belt have had well-documented problems with their sewage and water systems for years.

“Access to clean, safe drinking water is a basic need that is critical for residents in rural areas,” economic developer Nicole Jones told APR. “Oftentimes rural communities do not have the tax revenue that urban counterparts have, which makes facility and technology upgrades difficult. Modernized wastewater facilities increase efficiency and safety and are an important component of economic development. We are pleased to see Alabama on the list of beneficiaries for the $462 million dollar investment from the Trump Administration and USDA.”

Some examples of projects being funded under Monday’s announcement include:

  • In North Bend, Washington, the Sallal Water Association will use a $6.5 million loan to construct a reservoir, a new headquarters building and a new well. The Association supplies potable water to about 1,700 connections serving approximately 5,000 people throughout its service area, which includes the Wilderness Rim Association. The system currently delivers 190 million gallons of water each year from three wells.
  • The Sanbornville Precinct in New Hampshire will use a $2.9 million loan and a $695,885 grant to replace outdated water system infrastructure dating from the 1930s. This project will resolve health and sanitary issues by upgrading the source pump house facility and replacing 2.3 miles of failing bituminous-coated steel water mains. These improvements will bring the system into compliance with state and federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration regulations and provide enhanced water quality and reliability for 1,056 residents.
  • The town of Lawndale, North Carolina will use an $872,000 loan and a $1.5 million grant to provide sanitary sewer service to an area of the town that is currently without sewer service. Many homes in the area depend on individual onsite septic systems which are failing. The proposed project will install approximately 16,785 linear feet of eight-inch gravity sewer line, 60 manholes, 141 cleanouts, service laterals, and make other upgrades to service 141 additional residences. Approximately 600 residents will benefit from the project.

The investments that USDA announced today are being made in Alabama, Arkansas, Arizona, California, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, Vermont, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin and Wyoming.

To learn more about investment resources for rural areas, interested parties should contact their USDA Rural Development state office.

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USDA Rural Development provides loans and grants to help expand economic opportunities and create jobs in rural areas. This assistance supports infrastructure improvements, business development, housing, community facilities such as schools, public safety and health care, and high-speed internet access in rural areas.

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Economy

Seven counties get grants to expand internet access

Micah Danney

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Seven internet providers will receive $2.9 million in grants between them to extend broadband services in seven Alabama communities, Gov. Kay Ivey’s office announced on Thursday. 

The grants were awarded through the Alabama Accessibility Fund that was created to extend service to homes, businesses and “community anchors” in unserved or underserved areas of the state. Community anchors include police or fire departments, city halls, libraries, schools and medical facilities.

The grants were distributed as follows:

  • Butler County: Hayneville Fiber Transport Inc. (Camellia Communications) – $128,797 to provide service availability to 48 households and four community anchors in the Sherling Lake community which is northwest of the city of Greenville.
  • Choctaw County/Washington County: Millry Telephone Co. Inc. – $954,902 to extend broadband service in the third phase of a project covering south Choctaw and north Washington counties. The project includes 559 households, 16 businesses and two anchors including Millry City Hall and Millry School. 
  • Cleburne County: Gigafy – $178,782 to provide access availability to 486 households and 38 businesses in the vicinity of the city of Heflin.
  • Cullman County: Cyber Broadband Inc. – $1.33 million to provide service availability to 1,600 households, 125 businesses and 50 community anchors in the vicinity of the Baileytown and Joppa communities in eastern Cullman County.
  • Dallas County: Spectrum Southeast – $55,481 to extend broadband service availability to 55 households in the Deerfield subdivision west of the city of Selma.
  • Lee County: Spectrum Southeast – $8,407 to provide high-speed cable access to eight households along Lee County Road 279 near the Halawaka community.
  • Tallapoosa County: Spectrum Southeast – $245,567 to extend service availability to 316 households in the Marina Marin area of Lake Martin near Alabama Highway 50.

A total of $18.5 million in grants has been awarded to expand internet access in Alabama, mostly to unserved rural areas.

“The COVID-19 pandemic further emphasized how essential broadband services are to the unserved and underserved residents of Alabama,” Ivey said in a statement. “Thanks to the Broadband Accessibility Fund and broadband providers, we are making progress in ensuring that Alabamians have access to high-speed internet services, but there is no question we have a long way to go on completing this mission.”

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Economy

C Spire expands its high-speed internet to Jasper and Trussville

Micah Danney

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Mississippi-based telecommunications company C Spire announced Thursday that it has begun taking customer pre-orders in Alabama in the first two cities where it will provide high-speed broadband internet later this year.

The company has franchise agreements to expand its service to additional sections of those communities as well as to Helena and Tuscaloosa in 2021. It is soliciting interest from other communities and will continue to expand where there is enough demand, it said.

C Spire’s service is delivered over fiber optic lines that provide speeds of 1,000 megabits per second, or one gigabit. The average fastest internet speed in Alabama is 112 megabits per second.

Alabama is ranked 38 in the nation for internet coverage and speed, according to BroadbandNow, a group that studies and advocates for access to broadband internet. The state has 72 percent terrestrial broadband access. That compares to first-place New Jersey at 98.1 percent and last-place Alaska at 61 percent.

“Fiber’s symmetric speeds – for example 1 Gig upstream and 1 Gig downstream – are particularly important for interactive learning, remote work and telehealth applications beyond streaming video or surfing the web, which rely on fast download-only internet speeds,” said Ben Moncrief, C Spire’s managing director in Alabama.

Gigabit internet can accommodate dozens of devices in a home or business while using only a fraction of broadband capacity, which means no hiccups no matter how many devices are in use, said C Spire spokesperson Dave Miller.

He has more than 60 devices connected to his home’s gigabit network, he said, and can add more without concern about losing speed or streaming quality. It also adds to a home’s value, he said.

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The company doesn’t require contracts or have caps on data usage, Miller said.

The service will soon be available to residents and businesses in northern Jasper and in neighborhoods scattered around Trussville. 

Jasper Mayor David O’Mary said that Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle attributed his city’s growth to access to high-speed internet, and O’Mary wants the same for his community.

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“C Spire Fiber will help us continue to transform our community into a 21st Century digital powerhouse,” he said.

In Trussville, Mayor Buddy Choat said he pursued the service with a sense of urgency.

The Birmingham suburb just completed a development plan for the next 20 years and infrastructure is a key component. Including high-speed broadband in that promises to improve quality of life and allow for the kinds of amenities that make a community attractive to new businesses and industries, he said.

“Jobs follow this type of investment, and that’s what our community needs,” Choat said.

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Congress

Brooks to vote no on Democratic infrastructure bill

Brandon Moseley

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Congressman Mo Brooks, R-Alabama, said he will vote no this week on a Democratic infrastructure bill in the House, which he said was “socialism” cloaked in an infrastructure bill.

“Nancy Pelosi & her Socialist comrades are hellbent on destroying America,” Brooks claimed. “They won’t stop spending until America is bankrupt. They covet economic disaster so they can rebuild a Socialist America under the guise of providing economic relief. In this instance, Socialism comes cloaked as an infrastructure bill.”

Brooks cited as examples of excessive spending $29.3 billion in grants and subsidies to Amtrak’s intercity passenger rail service, $500 million a year to pay ports to replace their cargo handling equipment, hundreds of billions for public housing and “shifting funding from roads, streets, bridges and highways badly needed by red states like Alabama to subsidies of blue state inner-city mass transit programs.”

HR2, the Invest in America Act, is sponsored by Congressman Peter DeFazio of Oregon.

“The Socialists’ latest attempt to bankrupt America is a 2,300+ page bill, drafted behind closed doors by a select few, introduced just last week, that increases America’s debt and deficits by $1.5 trillion!” Brooks claimed. “That’s $1.5 trillion America doesn’t have, has to borrow to get, and cannot afford to pay back. America’s national debt blew through $23 trillion in November, $24 trillion in April, $25 trillion in May, and $26 trillion in June.”

“In April, the Congressional Budget Office (“CBO”) estimated a fiscal year 2020 $3.7 trillion deficit — without including this $1.5 trillion monstrosity,” Brooks said. “Both the CBO and America’s Comptroller General Gene Dodaro regularly describe America’s financial state as ‘unsustainable,’ accounting language for insolvency and bankruptcy.”

“Incredible as it may seem, even without this $1.5 trillion monstrosity, the federal government is on a course to spend roughly $50,000 per American household this year!” Brooks said. “Of course, that spending must first be taken from taxpayers in the form of higher taxes or greater debt. History proves you can’t spend and borrow your way to prosperity. America is no exception.”

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“Socialist Democrats call HR2 an infrastructure bill,” Brooks said. “The fact is, the bill contains more that would impede infrastructure projects than spur them. The bill is chock-full of new top-down, one size fits all Washington mandates and bureaucratic hurdles.”

Both President Donald Trump and congressional Democrats have been urging Congress to pass an infrastructure bill, but the two sides have been unable to agree on just what should be in the infrastructure bill. Republicans like Brooks have expressed concerns over growing the national debt on an infrastructure building spree paid for with growing budget deficits.

Brooks is serving in his fifth term representing Alabama’s 5th Congressional District.

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