The usually mundane issue of road and bridge improvements has taken a bizarre twist in Alabama.
Gov. Robert Bentley has managed to pit county commissions against city councils across the state. In the process, he has given county commissions the power to shut out municipalities from receiving road improvement funds.
In November, Bentley unveiled the Rural Access Match Program, or RAMP, which can give counties $5 million to upgrade bridges with weight limits less than 13 tons. Replacing those bridges would make them safe for school buses.
But if a county government chooses to receive RAMP funds, the county and the cities within the county cannot apply for money from the Alabama Transportation Rehabilitation Improvement Program, or ATRIP.
Melissa Bailey, director of the Florence Planning Department, told the City Council the city has applied for $7.4 million from ATRIP to rebuild and repave Wood Avenue, and to complete the first phase of the College Street redevelopment corridor. The corridor will lead to a planned bridge that will link west Florence with Alabama 20 and the city sports complex. Bailey said the city of Killen also has applied for ATRIP funds for traffic signals at Brooks High School.
Counties have an incentive to choose the RAMP funds because they do not require the 20 percent local match that must be made to receive ATRIP money.
Florence Mayor Mickey Haddock and the City Council are lobbying the Lauderdale County Commission to select the ATRIP program. Haddock said the city does not have enough money for the Wood Avenue project and other improvements without the state funds.
Florence officials are willing to have the city contribute $1 million in matching funds if the county sticks with the program that can benefit both entities.
City residents drive on county roads and rural residents drive on city streets.
With a decision due by Jan. 9, this issue presents an opportunity for the county and city to work together for the good of all Lauderdale County residents.
Colbert and Franklin counties have elected to stay with the ATRIP program and we urge Lauderdale County commissioners to do the same.
We also advocate that the governor find a solution that reduces the potential for conflict between counties and cities in Alabama.