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New law to infuse billions for Alabama infrastructure

By MARY SELL, Alabama Daily News

Alabama could get more than $6.8 billion in road and transportation funding in the recently approved $1.2 trillion Infrastructure, Investment and Jobs Act.

While broad outlines of how that money will be allocated are now available, more federal direction is needed before specific projects are identified.

“We’re still waiting on the federal guidance on what exactly we can do with this money,” Tom Layfield, executive director of the Alabama Road Builders Association, told Alabama Daily News.

According to information from the U.S. Department of Transportation, this is approximately what Alabama should expect from the infrastructure law over five years:

  • $5.8 billion in highway and bridge funds. According to USDOT, that’s about 32% more per year than current federal funding.
  • $402 million to improve public transportation options across the state;
  • $142 million for airport infrastructure;
  • $128 million to reduce transportation-related emissions;
  • $79 million for the expansion of electric vehicle charging networks in the state;
  • $44 million for commercial motor vehicle safety efforts to reduce crashes; 
  • $32 million for highway safety traffic programs.
  • About $146 million to “increase the resilience of its transportation system.” 

“You can read a definition of what resilience means, but you need the guidance to see that the (the federal government) says it means,” Layfield said.

The state and local governments can also apply for additional pools of grant dollars.

The IIJA also includes billions for ports and railways, though no Alabama-specific funding was mentioned in the recent USDOT breakdown of spending.

“It’s absolutely going to be a tremendous benefit,” said Layfield. “But from a cautionary standpoint, inflation is going to eat up a good bit of it.”

Increased prices of steel and fuel are already impacting projects, Layfield said.

Alabama Daily News reported in October that ADOT was monitoring rising supply costs for possible impacts on road projects.

Asked about the increased federal funding and its potential impact on the state, Gina Maiola, Gov. Kay Ivey’s spokeswoman, said the governor remains concerned with the President Joe Biden Administration’s “spending spree.” 

“However, as the governor has stated on occasion, any of these federal dollars that come down to us, her goal is to most wisely invest the money, not just spend it on patchwork efforts,” Maiola said. “The state is still awaiting guidance from the federal government to determine exactly what this may mean for Alabama. Thanks to Rebuild Alabama, our state is making improvements to roads, bridges and our Port, no thanks to Congress or the Biden Administration.”

Rebuild Alabama was the 2019 legislation that increased the state’s gas tax by 10 cents per gallon.

The Alabama Department of Transportation’s total appropriation in fiscal year 2021 was $1.6 billion, about 57% of which came from state-level funds.

The USDOT says Alabama has 620 bridges and nearly 3,000 miles of highway in poor condition.

“The needs are endless,” Layfield said.

Layfield cited American Road and Transportation Builders Association analysis from IHS Markit that estimates the IIJA’s investment in Alabama will add $1.2 billion in state gross domestic production each year and increase disposable income by an average of $217 per household.

“As projects are completed over time, the overall transportation system will become more reliable for the traveling public,” the association said in a written statement. “Businesses will also be more productive as their costs are lowered.” 

IHS Market projects an increase state and local tax receipts by about $210 million per year

“This is additional income that can be reinvested in the state without any increase in tax rates,” the association said.

Meanwhile, road builders are facing the same labor shortages as many industries in the state, Layfield said. Workforce development has become a primary focus of the association and projects are limited to the number of crews available.

“It’s going to take us a while to ramp up,” he said.

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