County Commission | The Magazine August 2018 - Page 17

FROM THE COVER q PAST, PRESENT & FUTURE: ROADS & BRIDGES r County leaders are steadfast advocates T here was a time when it was fairly accurate to refer to members of the county governing body as “road commissioners,” and although that era is quickly receding from view, local roads and bridges remain among the 67 county commissions’ biggest responsibilities. The history of Alabama’s county roads is highlighted by three game- changing funding initiatives, and county leaders are hard at work to add another one to that list in the near future. Farm-to-Market Roads Act Gov. Chauncey Sparks and his administration deserve credit for pushing the Farm-to-Market Act, which set aside a penny of the state gas tax for local roads and bridges. It was a 50-50 matching program, and Elmore County completed the first project – paving a 10-mile stretch from Slapout north to the county line – in 1943. Work under this program began in earnest after the end of World War II, which may explain why the next man to call the governor’s mansion home gets much of the glory. The goal was to convert 6,700 miles – 100 miles per county – of frequently muddy dirt roads to hard surfaces in just 10 years. Within a decade of full operation, the program had hit the mark: 6,801 miles paved and 114,388 linear feet of new bridge structures. The penny-per- gallon funding continued for another dozen years. GARVEE Bonds Bridge Program In the late 1990s, ACCA and In 1955, the Association’s magazine printed this photo of a Farm-to-Market program project, with a modern concrete bridge taking shape alongside the covered wooden structure it was replacing. the Association of County Engineers of Alabama sounded the alarm about structurally deficient bridges, organizing the first County Road and Bridge Summit in 1999. Many of the spans built by the Farm-to-Market Act had been slapped with weight restrictions as they neared their 50th birthdays. The restrictions were especially challenging and costly for school systems forced to route their buses along miles of detours. Counties, working in cooperation with the Alabama Department of Transportation, developed the GARVEE Bonds Bridge Program to address the poor condition of county bridges. The program hinged on using the Alabama Trust Fund to provide matching dollars for a five-year, $250 million bridge program. Voters approved the program in 2000 as the centerpiece of an economic development package known as Amendment One. Just a couple of years in, the bridge program had demonstrated that counties could complete large numbers of high-impact projects in a short time, and county leaders were already looking for the next “once- in-a-lifetime” program. ATRIP In 2012, Gov. Robert Bentley rolled out the Alabama Transportation Rehabilitation and Improvement Program (ATRIP) to invest more than $1 billion in local roads and bridges. Many counties completed 15 to 20 years’ worth of road and bridge projects in a three- to four-year period. Studies showed that this accelerated investment provided Alabamians with more than $6 billion in benefits. Looking at Autauga County as an example, ATRIP replaced three deficient bridge structures and resulted in more than 75 miles of COUNTY COMMISSION | 17