Jake Balentine is a Traffic Designer at Sain. [...]
As you may know, the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) recently released Alabama’s Infrastructure Report Card with the state receiving an overall grade of C-. These are not the kind of grades you want to see on your child’s report card, but it gives us a baseline for the future. While ASCE gave out their first national infrastructure report card in 1998, this was the first one done for the state of Alabama. For more than a year, numerous people worked to prepare Alabama’s Infrastructure Report Card by doing extensive research, compiling information and meeting with key people across the state.
Recently the National ASCE appointed one person from each state as the Government Advocacy Captain. While currently chairing the legislative committee and being a past president for the Alabama section of ASCE, as well as a past president of the Birmingham branch twice, they asked me to take that position for Alabama. As Government Advocacy Captain, my two main roles included preparing for and moderating the press conference held to release the report card. In preparation of the release, I arranged meetings with several members of the governor’s cabinet and others around the state to give them a preview of the information so that it wouldn’t come as a surprise. We met with Jim Byard, Jr., director of the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs (ADECA); John Cooper, director of the Alabama Department of Transportation (ALDOT); Greg Canfield with the Alabama Department of Commerce (DOC), along with several others. These meetings were actually a great experience. All the agencies we talked with didn’t take the news in a negative way, but instead saw it as a step towards improvement.
When the time came, I assisted in putting together the program for the press conference. I was moderator while Sheila Montgomery Mills, P.E., our state president of ASCE, discussed the report card and its findings. Angela Till, deputy secretary of the DOC; Jim Byard, Jr., director of the ADECA; and Dusty Meyers, P.E., president-elect of the Association of State Dam Safety Officials (ADSO), and Sherri Nielson of the City of Birmingham Mayor’s Office also spoke during the conference.
The report card has been a valuable tool to raise awareness about the need for additional funding and improvements for infrastructure. Not only did the press conference get picked up by multiple local media outlets, but the ASCE has also been asked to provide speakers for different organizations in Alabama. For instance, in January, I spoke to the Irondale Chamber. The Alabama Utility Contractors Association (AUCA) is also holding four meetings around the state and has asked us to provide a program on the report card. We’re really being looked at as a source of information.
Even though awareness has grown, the main issue remains that infrastructure hasn’t been adequately funded despite its importance to our everyday lives. We don’t always understand the need for it nor how the funding works.
For example, few people understand how gas taxes are funded. Many believe that when gas prices go up there’s probably more money. The truth is that the taxes are based on a certain amount per gallon and haven’t gone up since the early 90s. Since then, construction costs have increased for infrastructure improvements, and cars have become more fuel efficient, leaving us with a large need for more funding for roads and bridges.
The Alabama Legislature’s Joint Transportation Committee has had five public hearings around the state to look at a potential gas tax. My brother Jim representing ACEC and myself representing ASCE as well as other ASCE representatives have attended some of those meetings to provide testimony.
There’s also been some progress due to the ATRIP program Gov. Bentley worked to pass in 2013 to help local roads. It’s helped a lot, but it’s not just state roads and bridges. Only 11% of the roadways in the state are state roadways and only a third of the bridges are state bridges. You have a lot of municipalities and counties who have responsibilities for maintaining infrastructure; it’s more than just an ALDOT issue.
Before the next report card in four years we’d like to see some overall improvements in funding and resources for infrastructure improvements. Alabama is the only state that doesn’t have legislation regulating the safety of dams. Funding for inspections of dams and legislation regulating the safety of dams would be a measurable goal we should aim to achieve. We’d also like to see additional funding for roads and bridges.
The report card is important because it gives the citizens and the leaders of Alabama an assessment of the State of Alabama’s infrastructure. With a cumulative grade of C-, it’s very apparent that we need to address and invest in the improvement of our state’s infrastructures; the infrastructures that our entire economy relies upon.
View ASCE’s Report Card for Alabama’s Infrastructure here.