Connect with us

Infrastructure

Lawmakers: Broadband access most important issue facing Alabama

Josh Moon

Published

on

(STOCK PHOTO)

Expanding access to broadband in Alabama isn’t just one of the biggest issues facing the state, there is “nothing more important,” Alabama Senate President Del Marsh said Wednesday during the Business Council of Alabama’s Engage Alabama event. 

Marsh was part of a panel of speakers discussing the state’s efforts to expand broadband internet access, and the challenges and expectations for the future. Joining Marsh on the panel, which was moderated by Alabama Power executive vice president of external affairs Zeke Smith, were Sens. Clay Scofield and Bobby Singleton, who is also the minority leader, and Rep. Randall Shedd. 

Together, those four lawmakers have led Alabama’s efforts to improve its broadband availability to rural communities — and some communities that aren’t so rural — where access is limited or nonexistent. 

Marsh’s comments were echoed by the panel, and all four spoke of how various industries, services and the state’s education system could be impacted if significant progress isn’t made quickly. 

“I think it’s just as important as flipping that switch and lights coming on,” said Singleton, who represents some of Alabama’s poorest communities where broadband access is sporadic, at best. “It truly is our next most important utility service. In my district, I have a lot of kids who can’t connect to the distance learning that’s taking place right now. That’s a big problem, and we see now how important it can be.”

The COVID-19 pandemic, and the massive shift of daily life to an almost constant online presence for a good chunk of the state, has highlighted just how crucial broadband access is and just how much work remains in Alabama to provide adequate access. 

While expansion was already a priority, Marsh said the pandemic has now made it the top priority and made it obvious that the state needs a permanent funding source to keep up with the evolving technology and various service needs. 

Public Service Announcement

“Prior to COVID, it was can we get broadband statewide. Since the pandemic happened, that has changed to how soon can we have broadband statewide,” Marsh said. “I think all of us, and most of the state leadership, agrees that this is a necessity and that it will be one in the future. We need to work on a sustainable funding source that provides us with the money we need to meet the technology demands of the future.”

One of the biggest challenges to the expansion currently, Scofield said, is mapping out existing fiber-optic cable lines around the state. This is something that the FCC is supposed to do, but the agency’s maps, Scofield said, left a lot to be desired. 

To make up for that lack of data, the state, through the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs, has contracted with a third-party company to locate and map all existing fiber lines in the state. Scofield said they hope to have that map by the end of the year. 

ADVERTISEMENT

“We don’t, at this point, have a good handle on what areas are served — or not served — and at what speeds some areas can be served or if the fiber available is good,” Scofield said. “That map is a really important piece of this.”

Scofield also said he, and others, were disappointed that Gov. Kay Ivey elected not to put up $500 million in CARES Act funds, as Marsh requested, for broadband expansion. Ivey allocated $300 million for the various projects and agreed that more could possibly be allocated later. 

At one point, Singleton said various studies have found that properly expanding Alabama’s broadband access and putting in place the adequate infrastructure would cost as much as $2 billion. To get there, Singleton said, the state will have to partner with private companies and work in collaboration with them — offering incentives and other measures — to bring access to some of the state’s more rural areas. 

The state has already partnered on a number of projects with private companies, and millions of dollars in grants have been paid out over the past few years to push service into rural areas. Expect such efforts to be ramped up in the coming months. 

“If there’s a silver lining to the COVID situation, it’s that it’s but a really bright spotlight on the fact that we need to get this done now,” Marsh said.

Josh Moon is an investigative reporter and featured columnist at the Alabama Political Reporter with years of political reporting experience in Alabama. You can email him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter.

Advertisement

Economy

Report: Transitioning to electric vehicles could save Alabama millions in health costs

Alabama would experience approximately 500 less asthma attacks per year, about 38 fewer premature deaths and prevent more than 2,200 lost workdays annually.

Micah Danney

Published

on

(STOCK PHOTO)

Alabama could save $431 million in public health costs per year by 2050, if the state shifted to an electric transportation sector between now and then, according to a new study by the American Lung Association.

Such a transition would reduce other health-related issues, said the organization, which used data on pollution from vehicles and from oil refineries to calculate its findings.

Alabama would experience approximately 500 less asthma attacks per year, about 38 fewer premature deaths and prevent more than 2,200 lost workdays annually.

The transportation sector is one of the main contributors to air pollution and climate change, said William Barrett, the association’s director of advocacy for clean air and the study’s author.

“We have the technology to transition to cleaner cars, trucks and buses, and by taking that step we can prepare Alabama for the future while also seeing the health and economic benefits forecasted in ‘The Road to Clean Air,’” Barrett said. “Especially as our state faces the impacts of climate change, such as extreme storms, this is a powerful and practical opportunity to take action to improve our economy, our health and our future.”

Trading combustion-powered vehicles for electric ones could result in $11.3 billion in avoided health costs across southern states by mid-century, the report estimated, and prevent roughly 1,000 premature deaths.

Nationally, Americans stand to save $72 billion in health costs and $113 billion in avoided climate change impacts, the ALA said.

Public Service Announcement

The path to that future depends on leaders factoring public health effects into decisions about transportation, Barrett said.

That involves steps like pursuing electric vehicle fleets when purchasing decisions are being made and supporting the creation of enough charging stations along highways, roads and at truck stops.

Investing in that infrastructure can drive wider economic benefits, Barrett said. He cited California’s increased manufacturing of electric vehicles.

ADVERTISEMENT

Tesla is the most well-known producer that has located there, but Barrett said that makers of trucks and buses have also chosen to locate their facilities in the state.

Continue Reading

Infrastructure

Shelby announces more than $15 million in grants for projects in Tuscaloosa, the Wiregrass region

Eddie Burkhalter

Published

on

(STOCK PHOTO)

Alabama Republican Sen. Richard Shelby on Thursday announced that the U.S. Department of Transportation has awarded two grants totaling more than $15 million for infrastructure projects and planning in Tuscaloosa and the Wiregrass region. 

One Better Utilizing Investment to Leverage Development grant for $15 million is to be used to improve access to the Riverwalk area in West Tuscaloosa and a second grant of $450,000 to the Southeast Alabama Regional Planning and Development Commission is to fund feasibility studies related to transportation projects in the Wiregrass region, according to a press release from Shelby’s office. 

“I am proud to announce that Alabama has been awarded two BUILD grants, one to improve infrastructure investments in Tuscaloosa and a planning grant to assist the Wiregrass region,” Shelby said in a statement. “Both BUILD grants will provide important federal resources that will improve infrastructure and promote increased economic development opportunities in Alabama. I would like to thank Secretary Chao, the Department of Transportation, as well as the local communities for their work on these projects.”

The $15 million grant for Tuscaloosa will be used to make improvements to the Black Warrior River barge mooring, construct a bicycle and pedestrian path and complete a pedestrian bridge. The mooring improvements will allow the abandoned lock structure to be used for the construction of the shared-use path, according to the release. The pedestrian bridge will cross the new Jack Warner Parkway, and the bicycle and pedestrian path will run from the new pedestrian bridge to the existing riverfront park to the east, with lighting and security elements.

The $450,000 grant to the Southeast Alabama Regional Planning and Development Commission will fund the studies of a project that would widen approximately 24 miles of State Route 167 from a two-lane to a four-lane, from the Alabama State Line to U.S. Route 84.

The second project would widen approximately 13 miles of State Route 52, extending a segment from Geneva to Dothan that is currently being widened to State Route 167. Both of these projects could receive construction funding in the future, according to Shelby’s office.

Public Service Announcement
Continue Reading

Infrastructure

Governor announces $1.5 million for local road, bridge projects

Staff

Published

on

By

(STOCK PHOTO)

Gov. Kay Ivey and the Alabama Department of Transportation on Wednesday announced $1.5 million in state funding being awarded to cities and counties for various local road and bridge projects.

The funding comes in the final award cycle during the inaugural year of the Annual Grant Program, a new program created under the Rebuild Alabama Act. The Rebuild Alabama Act requires ALDOT to establish an annual program setting aside $10 million off the top of the state’s share of new gas tax revenue for local road and bridge projects.

This award cycle added six projects to the 37 projects funded earlier this year, bringing the total amount of state funds during the inaugural year of the Annual Grant Program to $10.2 million, exceeding the amount of state funds required by the Rebuild Alabama Act. A total of $7 million in state funds was awarded in January, and $1.7 million in state funds was awarded in June.

“We are well on our way to rebuilding Alabama’s roads and bridges, and this $1.5 million is a significant step of the process. When I signed the Rebuild Alabama Act into law, I assured the people of Alabama that all areas of our state would see a benefit, and we are delivering on that promise,” Ivey said. “Not only will we see these improvements as we drive on our roads, but we will see a ripple effect in areas like public safety and economic development. Investing in Alabama’s infrastructure is truly an investment in Alabama’s future.” 

In this latest round of funding, the six local governments receiving state funds are providing a total of $705,941 in local matching funds even though matching funds are not required to be eligible for the Annual Grant Program.

It is anticipated that all projects will be under contract by the end of the calendar year after bids are taken.

Public Service Announcement
Continue Reading

Environment

Alabama Power extends summer pool on Lake Martin into fall

Brandon Moseley

Published

on

(ALABAMA TOURISM DEPARTMENT)

Last week, Alabama Power announced that it is extending the summer pool on Lake Martin into fall, allowing more boating and recreational opportunities than would be possible if the implementation of the winter drawdown began last Tuesday as scheduled.

Hydro Services manager Jim Crew said that the fall extension is granted because water is plentiful throughout the Tallapoosa and Coosa river basins and conditions are met at Alabama Power dams across the system.

Until Oct. 15, Lake Martin’s water level will remain at 491 feet mean sea level. After that date, the level gradually will be drawn down to 484 feet mean sea level by the third week of November. The seasonal drawdown has several advantages, the most important of which is flood prevention. The winter pool level provides storage space in the reservoir system for spring rains.

At the local level, the lower water allows repairs and improvements to docks that are underwater during the summer. The drawdown also allows more access to the lake bottom during winter cleanup efforts and assists in the control of some invasive weed species along the shoreline as well.

Alexander City Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Ed Collari said that extending the summer pool level offers economic benefits to Lake Martin communities that provide services to part-time lake residents and visitors.

“Economically, that’s great news for our community,” Collari said. “The increased lake levels will allow people to continue to enjoy the lake into the fall. We’ve seen already this year what having people here around the lake will do, as that’s reflected in our community sales tax levels. The higher water level will encourage people to spend more time in our communities.”

Alabama Power is licensed to operate Martin Dam and manage the reservoir. The license stipulates Sept. 1 as the drawdown commencement date unless four specific criteria are met, indicating that the system of reservoirs on the Tallapoosa and Coosa rivers contains enough water to maintain navigation levels downstream.

Public Service Announcement

The conditional fall extension of the summer pool is new to the licensing terms for Lake Martin. It was not included in license terms of Alabama Power’s earlier licenses, but the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission added it to the license issued in December 2015 after the lake community overwhelmingly argued for it.

Analysis of data at that time indicated the fall extension could be expected to occur about once every four years; however, this is the third year since the license has been in effect the fall extension has been granted.

Rainfall has been far above average in the Lake Martin area this year. Normal precipitation for the period of January through August is just under 39 inches, but more than 54 inches of rain have fallen in the lake area so far, according to the National Weather Service.

ADVERTISEMENT

Alabama Power representatives urge boaters to enjoy the extension of summer safely.

Individuals with boats and other water-related equipment and facilities should always be alert to changing conditions on Alabama Power reservoirs and be prepared to take the necessary steps to protect their properties.

Manmade lakes across Alabama provide fishing, boating and recreational opportunities to people across Alabama. It also provides habitat for wildlife including ducks, geese, turtles and many other water birds including seagulls.

The lakes provide plenty of cheap, renewable electric power through the hydro-electric dams Alabama Power operates while increasing shoreline habitat and flood control.

For more information about Alabama Power lakes, download the new Smart Lakes app or visit apcshorelines.com. You can call 800-525-3711 for lake condition updates.

Continue Reading
Advertisement
Advertisement