DOT bill up for vote today Priority road construction list is one aspect of bill

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, February 17, 2004

Legislators will take another look at a proposed bill to change the state Department of Transportation following a narrow vote last Wednesday to delay the bill.

The bill’s author, Rep. Cam Ward, R-Alabaster, this week said subsequent changes to the bill should nullify the governor’ and state transportation director Joe McInnes’ reasons for delaying a vote on the bill.

McInnes, who spoke during the House State Government Committee meeting in Montgomery last Wednesday, said any change to the Department of Transportation could disrupt progress in the Reynolds case, a desegregation lawsuit against the highway department.

The original bill called for a three-person commission that would appoint the DOT director. Ward said the commission would eliminate some of the politics associated with road projects in the state.

&uot;Politics have trumped priority,&uot; Ward said. &uot;The power of paving is a vote-getter.&uot;

Some legislators last week said a larger commission could be more effective.

Separating politics from road construction

After last week’s vote to delay the bill, Ward made adjustments. The new bill calls for a seven-member commission, with one representing each Congressional district across the state. The commission members cannot seek re-appointment and are not elected.

Also, Ward added a provision so that the bill would not go into effect until the attorney general released a statement assuring that it would not impact the Reynolds case.

Ward said he spoke directly with Attorney General Bill Pryor, who assured him the bill would not affect the DOT lawsuit.

Last week, Ward told legislators that roads should not revolve around partisan politics.

&uot;Good roads are not a Democrat issue. They’re not a Republican issue. This bill is an indictment upon the system in which we build roads,&uot; he said.

According to Ward, 27 other states, including Georgia, rely on similar systems in which transportation directors are appointed by a committee.

Ward detailed problems with approving and completing road projects in the state, particularly the constant turnover in the governor’s office. Since 1990, Alabama has not re-elected a governor.

With alternating governors each term, long-term road projects face inconsistent support from each governor, who currently appoints the DOT director.

Ward said the commission could provide stability.

Local support

Several representatives from Helena attended Wednesday’s meeting to support the bill. In Helena and Alabaster, a five-year plan for Highway 119 remains unfinished.

Several representatives from Helena, including Helena Economic development board member Ed Kovalchick, spoke to legislators last Wednesday.

Kovalchick said Helena, with a population that has blossomed from 4,000 to 12,000 in the past 10 years, is essentially serviced by the same roads.

&uot;We’re in deep trouble,&uot; Kovalchick said, adding that businesses are suffering because of traffic problems.

&uot;People don’t want to do business in Helena and they tell us it’s because of roads.&uot;

Shannon Scott, chairman of the Helena Economic Development Board, said the governor has ignored Helena’s road problems since he won office.

&uot;When the governor was campaigning in our city, he shook my hand and said ‘We’re gonna get you help;’ now, we can’t get a return phone call,&uot; Scott said.

Ward also told legislators that Shelby County does not get a fair return on the number of dollars it sends to the DOT each year.

According to Ward, the county received about $4 million in road projects, after sending more than $12 million to the state in gas taxes.


Despite a request to delay the bill, McInnes said he and the governor support the proposal.

Gov. Bob Riley proposed creating an independent commission to make transportation decisions during his 2002 campaign.

&uot;The governor and I are in agreement with the concept of this commission. The concept is excellent,&uot; McInnes said. &uot;The timing is wrong.&uot;

Still, McInnes encouraged legislators last week to hold off on the bill until the Reynolds case is settled. He said the case has cost the state $256 million since 1994, and the state is in a position to end the lawsuit.

&uot;The Reynolds case is in such a precarious state … I beg you to carry this case over and not give the other side any ammunition,&uot; McInnes said.

At McInnes’ request, the committee voted last Wednesday 7-6 to postpone the bill.

&uot;I would appreciate the opportunity to get a vote on this at some point,&uot; Ward said. &uot;I hope reform in this state comes about more often than just campaign season.&uot;