Jan 17 2006

Shelby: Wiregrass should consider toll road for I-10 Connector

Dothan Eagle

Lance Griffin 



If the Wiregrass wants a major highway connecting to Interstate 10, it may want to think about a toll road, the state’s senior senator said Monday.


U.S. Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Tuscaloosa, said making the I-10 Connector a toll road would be the quickest, most economical way to construct the major highway that has been in the planning stages for at least six years.


"The longer you put that road off, it retards growth," Shelby said after speaking to the Dothan Rotary Club Monday. "I think they ought to look at (a toll road). It would be quick, you could do it fast and fund it and save millions and millions of dollars."


Shelby said he has floated the idea while speaking with the Alabama Department of Transportation, but declined to speculate on whether the department would consider it.


"I don’t know. I don’t make those decisions. I don’t make the route," he said.


Shelby said he has helped obtain $36.2 million to jump-start the I-10 Connector project since 1999.


ALDOT will hold a public meeting Wednesday from 4-6 p.m. at Westgate Recreation Center to collect feedback.


Shelby also said he will continue to support expansion of the Abbeville Airport as long as the town wants to move forward with it. Shelby drew criticism from some Abbeville residents who said his $2 million appropriation for airport expansion is a political favor to Abbeville businessman Jimmy Rane, who has been a consistent contributor to his campaign. Rane has said he supports the airport expansion because he believes it will help the Abbeville economy.


Shelby also touched on several other topics while speaking to the Rotarians:


Iraq: Shelby said a quick withdrawal of troops from Iraq would be a mistake.


"The worst thing we could do is cut and run and unilaterally withdraw," he said. "If we leave before we build their forces up, before we build their police up, then we’re sending a message that we’re not the nation we think we are."


• Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito: Shelby said he will vote to confirm Alito to the Supreme Court.


"I met with Judge Alito and I told him, ‘You’ve got the education, you’ve got the training and you’ve got the experience. If you’ll use a little common sense along with your conservative values, you’ll be a great improvement to what we’ve had.’"


Shelby said he expects Alito to be confirmed despite Democratic opposition. He also said another vacancy could arise on the court during Bush’s second term, making the Supreme Court nominees "Bush’s greatest legacy."


• Medicare Part D: Shelby said he has received numerous complaints about the complexity of the new program designed to give seniors greater prescription drug benefits, and supports an overhaul of the program.


"I’m hearing the message and I caught it," Shelby said. "Whoever wrote those regulations better start again."


• Immigration: Shelby said he believed the Bush administration had been "too weak" on illegal immigration.


"The immigration system we have now is broken. It’s beyond broken," he said.


Iran: Shelby said he believes Iran will soon obtain the capability to produce nuclear weapons.


"I think we should use every option in the world (to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear capability)," Shelby said. "But I’m afraid they will probably get it."