Hoover council hears Rethink 280 presentation

During a work session April 1, the Hoover City Council heard a presentation from Rethink 280, a grassroots group with the goal of stopping the plan for elevated lanes on U.S. 280.

Marc Beaumont of Rethink 280 led the presentation, saying Rethink 280 only wants to stop what could end up being a negative for the U.S. 280 area.

“We believe there are solutions that are less harmful to the environment, less harmful to neighborhoods and less harmful to businesses,” Beaumont said.

Rethink 280 offered a plan of their own for the council to consider. The Rethink 280 plan involves four express lanes, which would be free from traffic lights and non-tolled, and two or more local lanes, which would be for normal traffic.

Beaumont offered several reasons why the Rethink 280 plan would work. He said the plan offers toll-free express travel and comparable travel times while preserving residential neighborhoods as well as the visibility of existing businesses. He also said the organization’s plan, which would cost between $287 million to $459 million, would be far cheaper than the current Alabama Department of Transportation plan, which would cost around $800 million.

Elevated roadways are behind the times, Beaumont said.

“There are more elevated roadways coming down in America than there are going up,” he said. “You often pay for an elevated expressway twice. Once when you put it up and once when you take it down.”

Beaumont also questioned a recent survey, done by New South Research and championed by the Birmingham Business Alliance, claiming residents strongly support the elevated lanes plan.

The survey said nearly six out of 10 participants favored tolls over taxes to finance changes to U.S. 280. The survey also said 62 percent of respondents favored using elevated roadways between Interstate 459 and Double Oak Mountain.

Beaumont, who said he was “confused” by the difference between a toll and a tax, pulled up the definition of “tax” on his PowerPoint presentation: “A tax … is any contribution imposed by government whether under the name of toll, tribute, tallage, gabel, impost, duty, custom, excise, subsidy, aid, supply or other name.”

The tolls would just be another way for the state to tax residents, Beaumont said.

“The state is proposing a toll tax of up to $1,300 per year for select Hoover residents,” he said.

Any plan for U.S. 280 shouldn’t just be based on clearing congestion, Beaumont said.

“We want to make our communities more livable. Fifty years ago, just reducing congestion might have been acceptable, but it’s not today,” he said. “You have to say no to Plan A before Plan B is possible, and that’s what you’re being asked to do today.”

Hoover Mayor Tony Petelos said he believes the council will endorse a position on the elevated lanes issue, but he does not know what the position will be. He said he expects to have an answer in about a month.

In a Birmingham Business Alliance press release about the New South Research survey, spokesperson Dave Rickey said officials don’t realize how much support there is for the elevated lanes plan.

“This survey indicates a far greater level of support for the plan to reduce congestion on Highway 280 than most people realized,” he said. “Our goal is to reach a level of consensus on how to address the congestion issues that have plagued Highway 280 for many years.”

The survey, which had 400 respondents and was conducted March 22-26, said 65 percent of Chelsea residents and 66 percent of Hoover residents favored the plan.