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October 24, 2014

Officials say local projects likely unaffected by highway fund crisis

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Posted: Friday, July 11, 2014 4:41 pm | Updated: 6:08 am, Sat Jul 12, 2014.

 

A crisis of funding at the national level for future highway projects will likely have minimal effect on road and bridge construction in Calhoun County, officials said Friday.

Although the National Highway Trust Fund is nearing depletion, and U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said states could see a cut in highway funding starting next month, planned road projects will likely have enough funding at the local level to go forward, at least for now.

Ronald Baldwin, the chief engineer of the Alabama Department of Transportation, said new projects would come to a halt in the state if Congress doesn’t act on shoring up the highway trust fund. But that wouldn’t affect projects that are already approved and part of the state’s Transportation Rehabilitation and Improvement Program. Under that program, counties and municipalities applied with the state for matching grants for road and bridge projects, with the local government covering 20 percent of the costs. The program was funded through government bonds, allowing the state to access future federal dollars, unattached to the highway trust fund.

Calhoun County had secured more than $11 million in funding through the program, which has been used for resurfacing and bridge construction projects. Several of the approved projects are not slated to begin until 2015 or later.

“This doesn’t affect ATRIP,” Baldwin said. “That money is still there.”

Baldwin said because most road projects are planned years in advance, local officials who have already secured state money will still be able to go ahead with most of the improvements.

A large chunk of road projects completed in Calhoun County receive funding from the Metropolitan Planning Organization, a group of local leaders who secure money from the federal government to disburse to transportation projects in the community. Jacksonville Mayor Johnny Smith, who chairs the organization, said construction plans, along with securing the federal money needed for those plans, are set in stone almost three years in advance.

“So I think we’re all set as far as that is concerned,” Smith said.

Attempts this week to reach Jack Plunk, a principal planner with the East Alabama Regional Planning and Development Commission, and members of the Calhoun County Metropolitan Planning Organization, to obtain a list of upcoming county road projects, were unsuccessful.

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