House to vote on DOT bill – Transportation bill seeks to take politics from road decisions

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, February 8, 2005

Progress moves slowly in the Alabama Legislature; but one Shelby County representative believes an early start may bring about real change.

&uot;It takes so long,&uot; said Rep. Cam Ward. &uot;The process is so slow. A few years is lightning speed in the Legislature.&uot;

Ward is hoping, however, that a quick start on an effort to revamp the state Department of Transportation may mean success.

In fact, just a week into the session, he expects his transportation bill to pass out of the House on Thursday.

The bill establishes a nine-member commission to oversee the department. In overseeing the state’s road department, the commission would hire a director to run the department as well as help to prioritize road needs statewide.

Commission members would be appointed by the governor to staggered terms, Ward said. They would only serve one term, and once they serve, can never be re-appointed.

Currently, the governor appoints the director of the Department of Transportation.

In the past, Ward said, the modus operandi was to

&uot;sell a road for a vote. It’s the way things were and are done, on both sides (with both Democrat and Republican governors).&uot;

&uot;Decisions on road improvements should be made based on need,&uot; he said. &uot;The fact is, highways 52 in Pelham, 261 in Helena and 11 should have been done a long time ago.&uot;

Ward referred to a study which showed that for every $1 that Shelby County sends to the state in gas tax, the county only gets back about 23 cents.

In Franklin County, on the other hand, where Roger Bedford is the senator, for every $1 they send to the state, they see $1.83 back.

&uot;Road construction should not be based on politics,&uot; Ward said. &uot;It should be based on need. And on that basis, Shelby County is clearly where it’s needed.&uot;

Ward said the change in the way the DOT operates would make it more likely Shelby County would see those needs met.

He said, however, there were some who were going to fight the effort.

&uot;It’s going to be unpopular to some, particularly to those in power spots who aren’t going to want to give up that power; but we have some great allies. There are many who are supportive of this change,&uot; he said, referring to it as a bi-partisan effort.

Bobby Denton, a Democratic Senator from Muscle Shoals, for instance, has worked on changing the way the DOT operates for years.

&uot;Speaker of the House Seth Hammett is in favor of it,&uot; Ward said, &uot;and Gov. (Bob) Riley mentioned it as a priority in his State of the State address last week.&uot;

Ward said the bill was pre-filed before last week’s start of the Legislative session. It was assigned to the Government Committee in the House and passed out of there. It was then sent to the Rules Committee to be placed on the calendar for a full vote of the House.

Ward said at that point, he lobbied to have the first Republican bill during the session placed high on the calendar.

The full House, he said, was expected to vote on the measure on Thursday.

After it passes the House, the bill will be sent to the Senate where, once again, it will be assigned to a committee. After it passes out of that committee, it is sent to the Rules Committee to be placed on the Senate’s calendar and scheduled for a full vote there.

The same bill got hung up in the first Senate committee last year. After passing the House overwhelmingly with a 93-1 vote of approval, the bill was assigned to the Senate Banking and Insurance Committee. At that point, committee members killed the bill by a 5-4 vote against