MOBILE, Ala. (WALA) – A massive spending bill signed into law Monday by President Joe Biden will shower nearly $7 billion on Alabama over the next five years.
But that doesn’t mean state officials will able simply to write a check for the long-sought Interstate 10 bridge over the Mobile River.
“It is more complicated than that,” said Kevin Harrison, director of transportation planning at the South Alabama Regional Planning Commission.
Harrison said the state will receive a large amount of money. But he added that the legislation prioritizes repairing roads and bridges over building new ones.
“As far as the bridge … there is new bridge investment funding in this bill, which is predominantly for bridges that are deficient and that are bridges that need repair,” he said.
According to a fact sheet provide by the White House, the largest chunk of money to Alabama –$5.2 billion – will go to road projects. That includes including $225 million specifically to repair and replace bridges. The roughly $1 billion annual allotment is up from $830 million a year that Alabama would have received, so the Alabama Department of Transportation budget will be about 20 percent bigger.
“We expect to see an increase in federal funding, but just how much, how it can be used, and particularly what restrictions there might be, all remains to be seen,” the department said in a prepared statement. “It’s too early to speculate how much will be available across various funding categories, or specifically how new funding might be prioritized.”
The spending plan has a huge sum of money beyond roads and bridges. For Alabama over the next five years, it includes:
- $400 million for public transportation.
- $100 million to develop broadband internet coverage.
- $782 to improve drinking water.
- $140 million for airport improvements.
- $79 million to build charging stations across the state for electric vehicles.
- $23 million to help prevent wildfires.
- $19 million to guard against cyberattacks.
But roads and bridges remain the primary focus. Tony Harris, a spokesman for the agency, told FOX10 News that the state likely will use the additional transportation dollars to speed up road and bridge projects already in the pipeline. He noted that the increased funding amounts to a large sum of money.
“That will be good for the state. … That’s significant,” he said.
In addition to funds guaranteed to go to the state, the new law has billions of dollars in transportation grants that Alabama can apply for. But Harrison said that also appears to be predominantly for repairing existing infrastructure, not new construction.
“We’re hopeful that there might be some funding in that scenario,” he said. “Otherwise, we don’t see funding for the bridge in the bill.”
Harrison added that a fatter state transportation budget will provide more money for the I-10 project and other big-ticket items, like a push to expand U.S. 98 to four lanes all the way to the Mississippi state line.
That’s a potential source of new funding for the I-10 project, but Harrison says it’s unclear how much Alabama may get. He says the same applies for other big-ticket items, such as a proposal for four-land U.S. Highway 98 to the Mississippi line. But he said those projects will have to compete with others across the state.
“Again, it just goes down to how far that additional funding is going to get stretched,” he said. “And it’s going to get stretched pretty far.”
The overall $1 trillion price tag of the law “sounds like a lot of money,” Harrison said, “but when you trickle it down through all the states, it’s not.”
The only Alabama project specifically mentioned in the law is the Northern Beltline in Alabama, but officials said that is because it is part of the Appalachian Regional Commission. U.S. Rep. Jerry Carl (R-Mobile) said that was not possible for the I-10 bridge.
“I could not get anything earmarked even if I wanted to. … I would love to say we could pull $2 billion out of it and build that road, build that bridge,” he said. “And I would be all for that. But at the end of the day, I don’t have all the roads that the governor’s got. I don’t have the infrastructure problems that she’s got statewide.”
Like most Republicans in the House, Carl voted against the bill.
“It’s just so much money,” he said. “They’re spending money up there so fast. It’s like a bunch of drunken sailors in port.”