Riley: Infrastructure Key to Alabama Renaissance

Wed June 22, 2005 - Southeast Edition

Toll roads and private-public partnerships may be the answer to Alabama’s transportation problems, said Gov. Bob Riley during a speech at the Alabama AGC’s Montgomery Section April meeting.

“The limiting factor to economic growth in this state is transportation,” Riley said. “We must build infrastructure and if we do it we’re going to see a renaissance in Alabama.”

But to build that infrastructure, “We are going to have to re-think how we fund transportation,” he said. “We’re not going to get enough money [through our current government funding system] to meet the demands of congestion in this state.

“We’ve never used tolls in this state,” the governor said. “Look at Texas, Virginia, North Carolina and West Virginia. We must build partnerships with private industry to expand. Private companies say ’Allow us to build a road. We’ll design, build and collect a toll on the road and in 25 years it becomes the state’s.’ Look at [U.S.] 280 and see how we’re going to fix that with finite dollars.”

In the past, a limiting factor to the state’s growth was our reputation as being inefficient, but that has changed, Riley said.

“We have become the gold standard for efficiency,” he said. “We have an international reputation. Mercedes was apprehensive about coming here, but they found that when they came their Alabama operation is the most efficient of all their operations in the world. If we handle this properly, Alabama is in a position to do something economically that we could not have dreamed of five years ago.

“We have a short window of opportunity. Today we have people making decisions to come to North America. We have to change how we operate [politically] to take advantage of these opportunities. Let’s give teachers a pay raise and build infrastructure, but don’t spend more than we have.

“The only limiting factor for moving us out of the shadows is for you to become involved. Every one of you is a leader in the community. Every one of you can make change. There’s nothing wrong with the people of Alabama. Give us some tools and we’ll compete. But we can’t do it if we don’t change the systems that got us in the shape we’re in.”

And then: “We have to stop doing business the way we’ve always done it down here.”