Alabama 160 project put on indefinite hold, Standridge says

LEGISLATIVE UPDATE...

The Alabama Department of Transportation (ALDOT) has told county officials that the Ala 160 five-laning project has been delayed indefinitely. The information was relayed to county representatives by ALDOT director John R. Cooper in a meeting on Jan. 9, according to District 34 state Rep. David Standridge, who was present along with state Sen. Scott Beason, Commission Chairman Chris Green, and three county commissioners.

Impressions among those present of the duration of the change of status to the project varied from “cancelled” to “delayed” to “delayed for the foreseeable future.”

Standridge said Cooper told the group that the status of the project had changed as a result of funding issues, and that numerous state highway projects were affected. Cooper indicated that the change in status occurred as a result of an evaluation of funding problems made last fall and that the process of evaluation would continue for about another month before the determination is complete.

Standridge said prioritization of road projects is based on statistical factors like traffic volume and fatality rates, and that a number of roads in the state have higher rates than Ala 160.

In July 2011, the Federal Highway Administration authorized ALDOT to begin right-ofway acquisition to upgrade the two-lane road to a five-lane highway. That process is now near the halfway point with about 20 parcels along the five-mile corridor from I-65 to Hayden having been acquired, with several more in the pipeline, Standridge said. ALDOT still has to announce whether it will proceed further with property acquisition or suspend it indefinitely. Standridge said he believed, based on what Cooper said, that those parcels already in the pipeline for purchase, but not yet finalized, would be completed.

Standridge said Cooper said a departmental spokesman would be dispatched to the county at some point to announce the decision to the community. Attorney Greg Reid, who also serves as president of the West Blount Chamber of Commerce, said he has invited ALDOT to send a representative to discuss the project’s status at their March or April meeting, but has had no confirmation from them as yet as to whether they will attend. Oneonta wet/dry referendum

Standridge said he has had conversations with City of Oneonta representatives who told him they were working toward making a request for the legislative delegation to assist them with legislation enabling the city to hold a wet/dry referendum. He said he has received no official request yet.

One solution, according to Oneonta officials, is for Standridge to propose an amendment to existing legislation that currently excludes municipalities in Blount County from holding their own referenda to legalize sale of alcohol within their city limits. The amendment would simply remove Blount County from the list of three counties originally excluded from the act.

Standridge said his preliminary research suggests that a local bill might not suffice to override the original House Bill 175 in which Blount County was excluded from the right to hold municipal wet/dry elections.

In any event, he said, nothing definite is in progress at this time. He said an official request would probably trigger a meeting of the entire Blount County legislative delegation to decide on the best way to proceed. Commission requests for local bills

In its January business meeting, the Blount County Commission approved resolutions asking the legislative delegation for assistance in passing local laws on three matters:

• authorization to pass an ordinance or ordinances to preserve Blount County covered bridges now that they have been repaired and renovated; the ordinances would specify reasonable restrictions on use of covered bridges by citizens’ vehicles, impose fines for violation, and require reimbursement from those responsible for damages.

•authorization to impose a $5 driver’s license issuance fee for license purchases and renewals by outof county residents.

•clarification of Blount County’s obligation to provide a salary supplement of $8,175 annually for the court reporter for the 41st Judicial Circuit (Blount County Circuit Court).

Standridge said the three resolutions have been relayed to him. He said he will study all three, adding that the only one he has reservations about is the $5 license fee surcharge for out-of-county residents. “Since that fee is a standard amount throughout the state, I just need to make sure that what we would be asking to do is legal under state law,” he said.