Thursday, October 14, 2010

Alabama gubernatorial candidates on transportation

Casting a ballot for a candidate is one of the more powerful ways we can express our views on particular issues, including transportation. A little more than two weeks out from Election Day and Alabama voters have a pretty good idea about what their candidates for governor want to do to address the issue.

Republican candidate Robert Bentley and Democratic nominee Ron Sparks have quite a bit to say about issues such as the state Department of Transportation, borrowing and new capacity.

Sparks’ election website touts roads and bridges as the driving forces of the state’s economy. He says the state is falling further behind when it comes to keeping up with demands.

“We have miles of highway in this state in such disrepair that vehicles risk damage by traveling on them. ... Without a renewed commitment to our highway infrastructure, we are courting disaster.”

Bentley also addresses the issue on his website. His plan calls for creating “a bipartisan panel of experts to recommend the best ways to modernize the Alabama Department of Transportation.” They would work independently to “evaluate the performance of the major modes of transportation within Alabama.”

The candidates’ commitments to transportation are laudable. However, it will be worth keeping a close eye on the methods chosen by the next governor to get the work done. Hopefully they will make sure revenue already coming into the state is being used for its intended purpose. That is their best chance for keeping Alabama voters who elected them on their side – and winning over others.

An issue on the Nov. 2 statewide ballot that Bentley and Sparks have both endorsed is Amendment 3. If approved, the Alabama Constitution would be amended to allow $100 million a year during the next decade to be rerouted from a state savings account for roads and bridges.

However, Sparks said it doesn’t go far enough. In addition to the $1 billion that would be raised over the next 10 years, he wants to borrow another $400 million for highway construction and repair.

Among the projects that would get attention are new four-lane roads running north to south through eastern and western Alabama.

“My proposal will be funded through the issue of GARVEE bonds, a bonding program that uses future federal infrastructure grant funds to finance the debt service on the bonds.” He further describes it as “a proven means of front loading infrastructure investments.”

Bentley’s pursuit of modernizing ALDOT includes evaluating options for the new north-south roadways.

Even though additional capacity sounds like a fantastic plan, there is a lot to be leery about as to how Bentley would pursue funding the work. A report in The Birmingham News leaves no doubt about what he is willing to do to get new road work done:

“If the federal government won’t help pay for them, Bentley said he would consider making them toll roads.”

Bentley has already said he favors building an elevated toll road over U.S. 280 to relieve congestion in Birmingham.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Georgia gubernatorial candidates on transportation

Voters who take the time to get as much information as possible on candidates and their positions on issues of importance to them typically have to do quite a bit of digging. In Georgia, truckers have some insight into how the two men who are vying to become governor stand on various transportation issues.

Included below is what Democratic candidate Roy Barnes and Republican nominee Nathan Deal have to say about addressing one of the worst gridlock problems in the nation.

Nathan Deal’s election website is critical of the current transportation system. He also shows interest in reducing some truck traffic routing through Atlanta.

“Georgia’s east to west connectivity is insufficient, which forces thousands of extra vehicles onto metro Atlanta roads. Alternative routes must be explored to remove more than 100,000 transfer trucks from metropolitan roadways each day and significantly relieve congestion and delays as a result.”

Roy Barnes says on his website that “the days of only big road projects are gone. Instead of simply pouring more concrete, we must implement a mass transit plan that addresses Metro Atlanta’s tremendous population growth and unique problems.

“MARTA is convenient for Atlantans who want to travel short distances within the city, but it is completely unusable for suburban and exurban commuters,” says Barnes. “An elevated light-rail system running over metro Atlanta’s interstates, rail lines, and existing rights-of-way would move commuters to outlying suburbs more efficiently, unclog our interstates, and reduce our reliance on foreign oil, all while putting Georgians back to work.”

When elected officials and candidates talk about putting more money into alternative forms of transportation, it is natural for people involved in the trucking industry to hold their breath out of concern what such action might mean for the roads they use on a daily basis. Barnes addresses that concern.

“Businesses will not settle at the end of potholes and narrow roads. There are two important economic engines in Georgia: real estate development and commercial business. These engines tend to reinforce each other, but both rely on transportation as an essential tool for success. To bring new economic opportunity to every corner of our state, and to make Georgia work, we need to improve and expand the statewide highway system.”

Improving roads isn’t a campaign pledge that too many people are going to take a candidate to task over. But you better believe voters, including truckers, will keep a watchful eye on the methods used by the next governor to get work done.

Deal, like Barnes, addresses expansion, but he focuses on the Port of Savannah. Officials in the state are hopeful of making upgrades at the nation’s fastest-growing container port in time for a major widening of the Panama Canal, due for completion in 2014.

“As the Port of Savannah is expanded to accept larger vessels, surface transit will be a fundamental ingredient in ensuring the full utilization of the port. Connectivity through roadways and rail, when financially justifiable, must be explored,” says Deal.

One more transportation topic covered by Barnes is a proposed constitutional amendment also on Nov. 2 ballot. The amendment is billed as a way to reduce long-term construction costs paid by the state.

If approved by voters, the Georgia DOT would be allowed to pay for projects as they are under construction instead of being required to paying the entire dollar amount of contracts at the outset.

“I believe this is an integral first step to resolving transportation shortfalls in our state over the long run,” Deal stated.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Over-the-road serial killin’ truckers?

The FBI’s highway serial killer initiative has sure resulted in a demonizing of a hard-working segment of Americans.

In my opinion, it’s ridiculous and actually rather frantic to finger truckers for hundreds of unsolved murders along our roadways.

Sure, the highway system is full of truckers. But they are not the only workers who make a living on our nation’s highways. Our society has an ever-growing mobile work force out there. There are thousands of service people out there ripping off serious miles. And thousands of sales people are out there and they are not all George Clooney Up-in-the-Air cool dudes.

But let’s dig a bit deeper. I will bet there’s at least a half million travelers out there – desperate, untethered modern gypsies batting around our interstates in crappy old cars and living off cheese crackers and truck stop coffee. Bet there’s plenty of them with a dark history.

We probably have no idea how many drifters and homeless people and worse, just plain human predators exist in obscurity along our highways, panhandling at rest stops and hanging out in truck stops. The invisibility of these people is remarkable. America does not want to see them.

Unfortunately, along with being our nation’s pride-and-joy super slab, the interstate network is also the jungle path of thousands of lost people – many of whom have no respect for other humans.