Jun 10 2007

Tuscaloosa officials lobby legislators to fund projects

The Tuscaloosa News

It’s far from in the bank, but Tuscaloosa city officials have laid the groundwork for securing federal aid for three projects that could cost more than $50 million.

Mayor Walt Maddox, City Council President Harrison Taylor and a small delegation of city staff members met with Sen. Richard Shelby and Reps. Artur Davis and Spencer Bachus in Washington, D.C., last week in search of federal funds expected to become available upon reauthorization of the Federal Highway Transportation Act in 2010.

The city is asking for aid to extend McWright’s Ferry Road, a $30 million to $40 million project, to widen Jack Warner Parkway and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard to four lanes where they converge under the railroad trestle spanning the Black Warrior River, which could cost upwards of $15 million.

Maddox also wanted to ask Shelby, who was influential in securing the $45 million for construction and renovation projects under way in downtown Tuscaloosa, about an additional $5 million, which was earmarked but never funded, for a streetscape beautification project along University Boulevard.

“We went up there very focused on those specific projects," Maddox said.

That’s a point that wasn’t lost on the Washington legislators.

“It was an impressive presentation by Mayor Maddox and city officials," said Bachus, R-Vestavia Hills. “They made a persuasive argument for the McWright’s Ferry Road extension.

“As a result, my office has pledged its full cooperation in helping to get funding for the project."

Shelby, too, said the meeting was productive and that he was eager for the downtown construction projects to carry on.

“We discussed a number of issues, including the Downtown Tuscaloosa Urban Renewal and Redevelopment Project to enhance the city," said Shelby, R-Tuscaloosa. “The project seems to be on schedule and I look forward to working with Tuscaloosa officials as the project continues."

Davis said that he learned something new about Tuscaloosa: There are about 23,000 residents in west Tuscaloosa, which is almost equal to the populations of five counties surrounding Tuscaloosa.

“That was an eye-opening statistic that I had not really thought about -- just how large the west Tuscaloosa community really is and what it means to the future growth of the city," said Davis, D-Birmingham. “We had a very good, constructive meeting.

Maddox said the delegation traveled to Washington last week, even though the 2010 reauthorization is a few years away.

“We strategically took this point in time because we’re beginning the engineering phases of those projects," the mayor said, noting that any appropriations from the 2010 act may not be available until 2012.

By then, construction may be ready to begin on the Jack Warner Parkway widening project and the McWright’s Ferry Road extension project, which is intended to provide another route across North River for residents who live on the east side of Lake Tuscaloosa.

Shelby, with his involvement in the downtown projects, is the point-person for any future funding for this work.

McWright’s Ferry Road is in Bachus’ district and, because no one representative -- at the state or federal level -- represents Tuscaloosa in its entirety, the meeting with Davis was necessary because the railroad trestles are in the district he represents.

All in all, Maddox is hopeful that federal assistance will come through to make these projects a reality.

“We were very impressed with the local delegation’s attention and interest in doing something for Tuscaloosa," Maddox said. “We all felt very confident after the meetings."