Counties facing #8216;crisis#039; with rural roadways

Published 12:00 am Thursday, October 12, 2006

Gov. Bob Riley said state growth has contributed to the decline of Alabama's rural roadways and alternative means of financing roads may need to be explored in order to alleviate a situation that many officials have referred to as a &#8220crisis.”

&#8220Alabama is growing at an unheard of rate and as long as our economy wasn't growing this wasn't that big of a problem,” said Riley during an interview with The Advocate on Monday. &#8220But we just don't have the infrastructure in place to handle this kind of growth. It's one of the biggest challenges we face today.”

Riley said the state might need to look into public-private partnerships, allowing private entities to develop new toll roads, or even outsourcing highway maintenance, design, and service.

Riley did not say whether or not that funding would be allocated to county governments to help maintain the more than 96,000 miles of roads they're responsible for.

Counties address the maintenance needs of these roads with an average of $4,700 per mile in state gasoline tax revenue, while the state receives almost $17,000 per mile in state gasoline tax revenue per mile, according to the Association of County Commissions of Alabama.

&#8220Most of Alabama's rural roads were constructed more than 50 years ago during the Folsom Farm-to-Market Road Program,” said ACCA President Rhondel Rhone. &#8220But about 6,300 miles of those roads do not qualify for federal funds.”

Jesse McWilliams, Chairman of the Butler County Commission, said the county's road department is still working with funding from &#8220the 70s.”

&#8220Butler County is an under funded county,” said McWilliams. &#8220We do well with what we have, but no way is it enough.”

In 2005 a total of 331 persons were killed in traffic accidents on county-maintained roads, which represents 33 percent of all traffic fatalities in Alabama. According to the University Transportation Center for Alabama, more than half of the fatal accidents on the rural road system were caused by vehicles leaving the road surface.

Rhone said public officials should do their part to raise public awareness about the condition of rural roads.

&#8220Without any increase in revenue for more than a decade, counties simply have not been able to address the maintenance needs of these roads,” said Rhone. &#8220We cannot simply close these roads. Families live on these roads. Farmers grow crops on these roads. Products are transported on these roads everyday.”