Tuesday, the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee advanced a bipartisan highway bill that included a provision that is similar to one first written by U.S. Senator Doug Jones, D-Alabama, in the Be Safe Act. Jones said a new grant program in the bill could provide new funding for roads and bridges, including the Mobile I-10 bridge.
“The new PROTECT grants program could provide a much-needed source of federal revenue for the Mobile Bay Bridge, our aging rural roads, and other infrastructure projects across Alabama,” Jones said in a statement.
The Senate committee approved the $287 billion highway bill unanimously. Jones’ office called it the most substantial highway bill in history. America’s Transportation Infrastructure Act includes a new infrastructure funding program similar to legislation authored by Jones.
The bill establishes a new program, called PROTECT grants, that would provide $1 billion each year for competitive grants and $4 billion in formula funding for improving road and bridge infrastructure, and includes provisions from Senator Jones’ Be SAFE Act. Senator Jones introduced the Be SAFE Act in March in an effort to bring more federal dollars to Alabama to invest in life-saving evacuation routes and repair and improve roadways in the state’s small and rural communities.
Jones has criticized recent Alabama Department of Transportation Mobile Bay Bridge toll proposals and pledged to search for additional federal resources for the bridge.
“Communities that receive these grants would not only benefit from federal investments to improve, replace, or build new roads, bridges, and evacuation routes—but they could also bring a huge economic boost,” Jones said. “I’m proud that the committee built on a program that I introduced and I look forward to seeing all the ways it could benefit Alabama communities in the future.”
The PROTECT grants program includes two components that were priorities for Senator Jones in making sure the program serves Alabama’s small and rural communities: Funding for planning grants to help cash-strapped communities offset the high cost of technical assistance needed before they can even apply for actual infrastructure funding, which can sometimes cost as much as $40,000; A 25-percent set-aside for grants to rural communities with populations under 200,000, which Senator Jones negotiated with committee members. This will ensure that smaller Alabama communities won’t have to compete with larger cities in other states for the same funds.
The PROTECT grants would come in three categories: of PROTECT grants: Resilience Improvement Grants to improve or replace existing surface transportation infrastructure at risk from extreme weather events and natural disasters; Community Resiliency and Evacuation Routes to improve or establish roads for better and safer evacuation during severe weather events; and At-Risk Coastal Infrastructure Grants to strengthen, stabilize or elevate highways and bridges subject to long-term risk of natural disasters, storm surges, coastal erosion or coastal flooding.
The bill would authorize highway projects for five years starting on October 1, 2020. ALDOT wants to begin construction early next year on their proposal for the bridge.
The ALDOT proposal to fund the $2.1 billion bridge and bayway replacement by tolling I-10 between Mobile and Baldwin Counties is highly unpopular with the residents of the two coastal counties. Over 42,000 residents have joined a Facebook group, led by popular State Auditor Jim Zeigler (R), in opposing the plan.
Zeigler said in a press statement Tuesday night that he will call on Alabama Governor Kay Ivey (R) and ALDOT to halt the $2.1 billion toll project for Mobile Bay and await possible inclusion in the new $287 billion fund.
Zeigler said that the new bridge over the Mobile River and Bayway replacement qualifies in two ways – a hurricane evacuation route and traffic congestion and capacity enhancement.
The bill now goes to the Senate floor. If it passes there, it must go to the House of Representatives and, if passed there, onto the President’s desk for signature into law. President Donald J. Trump (R) has been a strong supporter of an infrastructure bill.
House conservatives have been critical of passing a massive infrastructure bill without doing anything to control the growing national debt. Unless this is paid for with a federal fuel tax increase, all the $287 billion would likely be paid for with deficit spending.
This is a tricky situation for ALDOT because they have invited three construction and engineering conglomerates to bid on their $2.1 billion bridge project within the next 80 days. If ALDOT and the Governor were to sign that contract to form a public-private partnership (P3) then those private bridge builders would have the right to toll the new bridge and the existing Wallace Tunnels for the next 55 years, even if a federal funding solution later became available.
The Mobile Bay Bridge project is in a designated Opportunity Zone. Under existing federal and state laws, if the P3 project were approved as an O-Zone project, the investors could be shielded from paying most federal, state, and local taxes on their profits and construction materials for decades to come.
Motorists who can not afford or refuse to pay the tolls would have to take the causeway by the World War II battleship or the Africatown bridge.
It is the ALDOT position that there will not be any new bridge over Mobile Bay unless it is a toll bridge.
Shelby announces $61 Million in grants for Alabama airports
U.S. Senator Richard Shelby, R-Alabama, today announced that 25 local airports across the state of Alabama will receive a total of $60,999,054 in Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) grants.
The funding, some of which is made available through the Coronavirus Aid Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act) of 2020, was awarded by the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) for various airport improvements.
“These FAA grants will support airport infrastructure improvements to 25 Alabama airports and allow operations to continue as they work to minimize the negative effects of COVID-19,” Shelby said in a statement. “It is important that we invest in advancing our airports, particularly those in rural areas which have a significant economic impact in local communities. This $61 million in DOT funding for aviation in Alabama is great news and will contribute to the vitality of our entire state.”
The FAA grants are administered through Fiscal Year 2020 Airport Improvement Program (AIP) annual and supplemental awards. Additionally, funds provided through the CARES Act serve as the local match for the airport improvement projects.
A total of 28 grants were awarded to 25 local airports in Alabama, amounting to $60,999,054 for the following airport projects:
- Albertville Regional-Thomas J Brumlik Field, Albertville, Alabama – $380,200 to construct a taxilane
- Atmore Municipal Airport, Atmore, Alabama – $333,333 to seal a runway pavement surface and pavement joints
- Bay Minette Municipal Airport, Bay Minette, Alabama – $467,054 to construct a taxilane
- Bessemer Airport, Bessemer, Alabama – $166,904 to update the airport’s master plan or study
- Birmingham-Shuttlesworth International Airport, Birmingham, Alabama – $2,803,000 to improve airport drainage and $7,256,000 to rehabilitate a runway and a taxiway
- Brewton Municipal Airport, Brewton, Alabama – $150,000 to improve airport drainage and erosion control
- Camden Municipal Airport, Camden, Alabama – $326,404 to rehabilitate an access road and an apron
- Chilton County Airport, Clanton, Alabama –$555,556 to extend a runway
- Pryor Field Regional Airport, Decatur, Alabama – $585,000 to seal a taxilane pavement surface and pavement joints
- Dothan Regional Airport, Dothan, Alabama – $1,415,000 to acquire or rehabilitate an emergency generator; improve, modify, and rehabilitate a terminal building; and reconstruct an apron
- H. L. (Sonny) Callahan Airport, Fairhope, Alabama – $491,111 to expand an access road and rehabilitate an apron and $120,000 to update the airport’s master plan or study
- Florala Municipal Airport, Florala, Alabama – $425,000 to construct an access road and an apron
- Foley Municipal Airport, Foley, Alabama – $361,111 to rehabilitate an apron
- Isbell Field Airport, Fort Payne, Alabama – $75,000 to rehabilitate an apron
- Northeast Alabama Regional Airport, Gadsden, Alabama – $166,667 to install a runway vertical and visual guidance system and rehabilitate airport beacons
- Guntersville Municipal-Joe Starnes Field, Guntersville, Alabama – $166,667 to construct a runway and a taxiway
- Hartselle-Morgan County Regional Airport, Hartselle, Alabama – $459,667 to install miscellaneous navigational aids and reconstruct runway and taxiway lighting
- Huntsville International Airport, Huntsville, Alabama – $1,525,000 to acquire an aircraft rescue and fire fighting vehicle and install security cameras and $23,374,511 to reconstruct runway lighting and rehabilitate a runway
- Mobile Downtown Airport, Mobile, Alabama – $8,886,910 to rehabilitate a runway
- North Pickens Airport,Reform, Alabama – $160,276 to install taxiway lighting
- Roanoke Municipal Airport, Roanoke, Alabama – $123,689 to rehabilitate an apron, a runway, and a taxiway
- Scottsboro Municipal-Word Field, Scottsboro, Alabama – $309,434 to improve airport drainage and rehabilitate a runway
- Sylacauga Municipal Airport, Sylacauga, Alabama – $100,000 to reconstruct an airport beacon
- Tuscaloosa National Airport, Tuscaloosa, Alabama – $9,444,444 to reconstruct a runway
- Franklin Field Airport, Union Springs, Alabama – $371,116 to acquire land for development and install perimeter fencing
Sewell announces new grants for airports
Thursday, U.S. Congresswoman Terri Sewell, D-Selma, announced today $21,549,052 in funding for airports throughout Alabama’s 7th Congressional District, as part of the funding allocated by the CARES Act.
“While we must continue to prioritize health care and safety initiatives to prevent the spread of COVID-19, we must also do everything possible to mitigate the economic devastation caused by these necessary health care restrictions,” said Rep. Sewell. “Our airports are vital to our local economies, and while I continue to strongly encourage every Alabamian across the 7th Congressional District to stay home and avoid travel, I am equally committed to ensuring the stability of our airports.”
The CARES Act is Congress’s third COVID-19 response bill. In addition to the popular Payroll Protection Program for businesses, the personal checks for $1,600, funds for hospitals, and a fund for cities and states it also allocated $10 billion to airports across the country. The money comes with no local match required, to help mitigate the economic impact of the COVID-19 crisis.
The Birmingham-Shuttlesworth International Airport (Birmingham, AL) will receive the majority of the funding, $18,745,394, with additional funds going to: Montgomery Regional Airport, Dannelly Field in Montgomery; the Tuscaloosa National Airport; the Demopolis Regional Airport; the Craig Field Regional Airport in Selma; and the Vaiden Field Airport in Marion.
“We are very grateful for our local congressional delegation and applaud their work with the federal government in supporting the aviation industry, its workforce and the operations at our airport during this global crisis,” said Ronald F. Mathieu, President & CEO of Birmingham Airport Authority. “Airports exist to be economic engines to the regions they serve. We are most thankful for all of the support received that allows us to continue serving our community while also protecting the jobs of our employees and the many contractors and subcontractors and their families.”
“On behalf of the airport authority and board of directors, we truly appreciate Congresswoman Sewell going to bat for the airports,” said Marshall Taggart, Executive Director, Montgomery Regional Airport. “Congresswoman Sewell parks at our airport and she flies in and out of our airport, so we consider ourselves her hometown airport, and she treats us that way. Like other airports, we’ve been profoundly affected by COVID-19. There is a significant strain on our ability to pay payroll and other necessary functions, however, these resources and funding mean we will be able to sustain and maintain operations for the time being. We are incredibly grateful for the partnership in ensuring our continued functionality.”
Under the Airport CARES ACT grant recipients in Alabama’s 7th Congressional District include: the Birmingham-Shuttlesworth International Airport in Jefferson County $18,745,394; the Montgomery Regional Airport, Dannelly Field in Montgomery County $2,576,658; Tuscaloosa National Airport in Tuscaloosa County $157,000; the Demopolis Regional Airport in Marengo County $30,000; Craig Field Regional Airport in Dallas County $20,000; Vaiden Field Airport in Perry County $20,000.
Congress is currently in negotiations with the Trump Administration on a proposed fourth coronavirus relief package as the national forced economic shutdown grinds into its sixth week.
Congresswoman Terri Sewell represents Alabama’s Seventh Congressional District. Sewell is in her fifth term in Congress and is virtually assured of being re-elected to her sixth as no Republican qualified to challenge Sewell in the November general election.
Alabama may need 2,500 more ventilators. It’s having to compete to get them
Alabama may need 2,000 more ventilators than it has, and it’s being forced to compete with other states to get them on the private market.
State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris said Friday that the Alabama Department of Public Health is attempting to source its own ventilators as a number of hospitals in the state are already struggling and asking for more.
The state requested 500 ventilators from the federal government through the Department of Health and Human Services and the national strategic stockpile. It asked for 200 of them to be delivered urgently.
“HHS has indicated that they’re not going to fulfill that anytime soon because they’re still taking care of places like New York City,” Harris said in an interview with APR.
When Alabama nears an expected surge — say 72 hours before hospitals are expected to be overwhelmed with patients requiring life support — they may be able to make the extra ventilators available.
So Alabama, like a number of states, is being forced to try to source ventilators on its own through the private market, where hundreds of hospitals, all the other states and other countries are trying to do the same.
Harris said he signed a purchase order Thursday for 250 more ventilators.
“We’re waiting to see, and then there are others that we’re waiting to hear from,” Harris told APR. “We’re doing our best to try to source these in any way that we can.”
“We’re attempting to source those ourselves, but as you know, all the states are looking to source their own and in some measure competing with each other,” he said a press conference Friday evening when Gov. Kay Ivey announced a shelter in place order.
Alabama Sen. Doug Jones said Thursday that Alabama will likely make additional requests, but there are only 10,000 ventilators in the national stockpile and in the U.S. Department of Defense surplus. And with every other state in the country also requesting these supplies, the federal government has said that states should not rely on the national stockpile to bolster their ventilator capacity.
By Friday, nearly 1,500 people were confirmed positive with the virus. At least 38 have died. Dire models from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington — models that influenced the state’s decision to issue a stay-at-home order — project that by mid-April, Alabama could have a massive shortage of ventilators and hospital beds.
“The timeline I think makes sense and the time when we’re expected to have a surge is the part that was most useful to us,” Harris said. “We’ve been trying very hard to get an order in place with regards to this surge that we expect to happen.”
The model estimates that Alabama could have a shortage of 20,000 hospital beds, 3,900 intensive care beds and more than 2,000 ventilators.
At least 3,500 ventilators would be needed at the peak of the COVID-19 outbreak in mid-April, according to the IHME model. Last month, Alabama Hospital Association President Donald Williamson said the state has a surge capacity of about 800.
The same model projects that about 5,500 people could die from COVID-19 in Alabama by August. However, the model is live and is regularly adjusted. Earlier this week, it suggested that 7,000 people could die by August.
Harris said the state, over the past couple of weeks, has added a few hundred additional ventilators to its capacity by converting anesthesia machines and veterinary ventilators for use on those infected with the coronavirus.
“Yet, even with adding all of those ventilators, going up by a few hundred units, which means to tell you that we’re still using around the same percent of all of our ventilators even though the number [of ventilators] is going up,” Harris said. “So we know that there are more patients on ventilators.”
The state health officer said some hospitals in the state are already struggling but others are cooperating to share resources.
“They are really working hard to make sure that they have what they need, and we’re trying very hard, along with the governor’s office, to make sure that Alabama has enough inventory,” Harris said.
DOJ makes $14 million available to public safety agencies to respond to COVID-19
Thursday, U.S. Attorney Jay E. Town announced that the Department of Justice is making $850 million available to help public safety agencies respond to the challenges posed by the outbreak of COVID-19, which has already killed over 6,000 Americans, including 32 Alabamians.
The Coronavirus Emergency Supplemental Funding program was authorized in the recent stimulus legislation signed by President Donald J. Trump (R). The program will allow eligible state, local and tribal governments to apply immediately for these critical funds. The department is moving quickly to make awards, with the goal of having funds available for drawdown within days of the award.
“Law enforcement are – and always have been very best among us. They continue to solidify that fact during this pandemic,” Town said. “It is important that our state and local partners have the resources they need to ensure public safety during this time. These additional resources will allow that to continue.”
Katherine T. Sullivan is the Office of Justice Programs Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General.
“This is an unprecedented moment in our nation’s history and an especially dangerous one for our front-line law enforcement officers, corrections officials, and public safety professionals,” said Sullivan. “We are grateful to the Congress for making these resources available and for the show of support this program represents.”
The solicitation was posted by the Bureau of Justice Assistance in the Justice Department’s Office of Justice Programs (OJP) and will remain open for at least 60 days. The program can be extended as necessary. OJP will fund successful applicants as a top priority on a rolling basis as applications are received. The funds may be used to hire personnel, pay overtime costs, cover protective equipment and supplies, address correctional inmates’ medical needs and defray expenses related to the distribution of resources to hard-hit areas, among other activities.
The grant funds may be applied retroactively to January 20, 2020, subject to federal supplanting rules.
Agencies that were eligible for the fiscal year 2019 State and Local Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant Program are candidates for this emergency funding. A complete list of eligible jurisdictions and their allocations can be found here.
For more information about the Coronavirus Emergency Supplemental Funding program click here.
As of press time, there were 1,270 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Alabama. 32 Alabamians have already died. There have been deaths in Jefferson, Shelby, Mobile, Lee, Madison, Chambers, Washington, Baldwin, Jackson, Tallapoosa, Lauderdale, Marion, Etowah, and Baldwin Counties.
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