Our View: Teamwork brought home millions for roads and bridges
We were pleased to note the cooperation between cities and counties in our coverage area that helped bring our fair share of ATRIP grant money here for improvements to some of the bridges and roadways in our area.

Locally, planners, engineers, managers and elected officials worked together to submit applications to the Alabama Department of Transportation to request the funding, and we appreciate their work in helping to improve roadways we drive every day.

ATRIP — the Alabama Transportation Rehabilitation and Improvement Program — is a federal grant program administered by ALDOT. Grants fund up to 80 percent of the construction of important roadway projects with a 20 percent local match.

The state of Alabama managed the billion-dollar program, dividing up the funding among all 67 counties. Cities and counties worked together to make their needs known to ALDOT in requesting funding.

St. Clair County and Talladega County each received a total of $14.5 million in the three rounds of allocations, along with Elmore County, as the 15th, 16th and 17th highest in the state. That’s about the same as the three counties rank in size based on population. According to the 2010 census, St. Clair is the 15th largest county in the state, and Talladega County is the 17th largest. But those three counties ranked just behind the fourth largest county in the state, Montgomery County, which received $14.89 million overall in the program.

The third largest county in the state, Madison County, received the most funding, $82.7 million, almost twice the amount of the largest county — Jefferson County, with $46.12 million. There’s more to getting the funding than a county’s population.

Grants are competitive, and it appears that our local leaders held their own in the process. That’s important to highway safety, and experts in the field say we are falling behind in maintaining our roads and replacing our bridges.

Most funding for those projects, especially local funding, comes from taxes on motor fuels. That seems to be a logical way to produce that revenue — the more fuel that is used, the more tax revenue is produced. But there is a catch in the formula. Fuels are taxed by the gallon, not by the price of the fuel. As the price of petroleum increased, the amount of tax per gallon remained the same. Liquid asphalt, a necessary ingredient in the asphalt pavement we need for our roads, comes from petroleum, and the price of liquid asphalt has gone up faster than the tax revenue needed to pay for it.

That presents challenges to governments at all levels to maintain and improve our bridges and roadways, and as a nation, we’re playing a game of catch-up.

The American Society of Civil Engineers issued a report card for the nation’s infrastructure earlier this year, and while they are not a totally disinterested group — after all, their livelihood is derived from engineering projects — they point out infrastructure needs in a number of areas including water, aviation, dams, ports, roads and more. And the C+ grade they gave the nation’s bridges was one of the brighter spots in the report.

They say one in nine of the nation’s bridges are rated as structurally deficient, while the average age of the nation’s 607,380 bridges is currently 42 years. The Federal Highway Administration estimates that to eliminate the nation’s bridge deficient backlog by 2028, we would need to invest $20.5 billion annually, while only $12.8 billion is being spent currently. In Alabama, nine percent of our 16,070 bridges are considered structurally deficient, and 13.7 percent are functionally obsolete.

Roads got a grade of D nationally. The report states that a fourth of Alabama’s roads are of poor or mediocre quality.

That’s why federal highway funds, like those made available through the ATRIP program, are so important to the state and nation, and it’s why it’s so important for our local officials and professionals to be alert to seize every opportunity to make improvements to the infrastructure here at home. We appreciate their success in bringing these millions of dollars home for local improvements.

© 2013