Roads and bridges lead to many places in a practical sense.
But in great portions of Alabama, infrastructure is often a road to nowhere.
Establishing and maintaining a viable infrastructure was the theme of Friday’s Cullman Area Chamber of Commerce Community Luncheon. With a program titled “The Cost of Doing Nothing,” Jim Page, president and chief executive officer of the Chamber of Commerce of West Alabama, a Tuscaloosa-based business advocacy organization, spelled out the urgency of investing in roads and bridges as road map to the future.
As a member of the Alliance for Alabama Infrastructure, Page is among a group urging the Alabama Legislature to move forward on investing in roads and bridges to ensure economic expansion and to open opportunities for areas of the state that are lagging behind.
“We all know Washington is in a state of disarray right now,” Page said. “But one of the things both Democrats and Republicans are interested in seeing is an investment in infrastructure. No one knows how much at this time, but everything from billions of dollars to a trillion have been talked about.”
States that are financially prepared will reap the most benefits from whatever Congress and the president agree upon, Page said.
At this point, Alabama is not in a position to get the share it needs when the federal-level investment arrives.
Page illustrated his point with an analogy about the fuel tax, which is used for roads and bridges. He noted the driver of a 1994 Honda would pay $185 in fuel taxes. Skipping forward to 2016, the driver of a Honda, with improvements in fuel efficiency traveling 12,000 per year would pay $142.
“Because vehicles are more efficient and the fuel tax has remained down, funding has decreased. At the same time, the cost of construction has steadily been going up,” Page said.
He also said 50 percent of the state’s roads and bridges are in poor condition and contribute to fatalities.
“We have a window of opportunity with President Trump wanting to invest in infrastructure,” Page said. “A lot of details are not in, yet, but there certainly will be a matching component for states to get funding. You will get a bigger piece of the pie if you have more money dedicated to roads.”
Noting that business investors look closely at infrastructure, Page said investing at the local and state levels of government will ensure growth for the economy.
“We’ve had some growth in Alabama. We’re all proud to be Alabamians because it’s a great place to live and raise families,” Page said. “But communities have to agree on priorities and be prepared to help fund projects. State’s will have an increasing responsibility for roads and so will local communities. It’s a quality of life issue.”