Roadscapes Stuff

Roadscapes Wednesday: Hoover School Bus Fees / Huntsville Road Problems


Roadscapes Geek Alabama

This week on Roadscapes Wednesday, I am talking about two issues affecting folks in Alabama.  First off, is there a solution to the Hoover School Bus issues?

Hoover School Buses Saved?

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This week, the Hoover City School Board voted to keep the school buses for the 2014-2015 school year and beyond.  But the school system is now looking at charging a user fee for each student to use the school buses, but that might not happen at all.  It all depends on what does school system cuts and decides to fund for the next school year.  When I posted the original Roadscapes talking about the Hoover school bus issue, it got a lot of people talking.  The Hoover BOE will soon be sitting down with a group of stakeholders (including Hoover citizens) and the City Council to discuss a variety of things, including the budget and what to cut and what to keep.

The only problem I have with the user fees is how much?  If the costs are too high, people with low-income will not be able to afford the fees.  Unless the school system does a sliding scale based on a parent’s income.  Today, a new wrinkle has been thrown into the school bus user fee debate.  The Alabama Department of Education is open to considering the idea that city school districts can charge students fees to ride a bus to and from school.  County schools are required to provide transportation for students to and from school.  But city school systems are not required to offer transportation for students. Thus, it is considered an optional service.

The state of Alabama pays city school districts 75% of the transportation costs.  But the city school districts must pay the remaining 25%.  If city school districts starts to charge a user fee, many parents and even the U.S. Attorney’s Office has concerns that a user fee would mean kids in city school districts can not get to school.  Some city school districts force kids to travel 10-20 miles to get to school.  And with high gas prices, that can take a small budget to big extremes.  I don’t have a problem if the user fee is based on a sliding scale.  But the user fee can not be too high!

I am glad the Hoover School Buses are back, and I hope the school system won’t have to do user fees and cuts can be made in other places.  I will keep up with this story, no child should be denied a right to an education because they can afford user fees to get to school.

Follow the Save the Hoover Bus System on Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/savethehooverbuses

Follow the Hoover City School Facts blog at: http://hooverfacts.wordpress.com/

Huntsville Sales Tax For Roads?

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If you live in the Huntsville Metro, then you know how bad the traffic is.  If you think the traffic is bad now, if Alabama lands Boeing and creates up to 8,000 jobs in the Huntsville area, you won’t be able to get anywhere!  ALDOT director John Cooper is offering $125 million over five years to repair and build new roads/bridges in the Huntsville Metro which would improve traffic flow.  But with easy money, there is a catch.  Huntsville must provide a dollar-for-dollar match.  That is a lot of money for a city!

The Huntsville City Council is proposing a 1 cent sales tax increase to 9% to pay for the road upgrades.  The money would be used to build additional traffic lanes, widen roads, six-lane US 72, new overpasses on Memorial Parkway, and add adaptive traffic signals on Memorial Parkway and other major highways in the city.  So far, the Huntsville-Madison Chamber of Commerce and the Associated Builders and Contractors of North Alabama have endorsed the 1 cent sales tax increase to pay for roads.  But I have another question.  Why is every Alabama city considering raising sales taxes to pay for things like roads, schools, and other things.  Have we forgotten there are other ways to fund new things?

Some say a sales tax increase is the only fair way because everyone has to pay.  But it also takes away more money from people, especially poorer people.  Could we raise the gas tax that has not been done in over 20 years. Or could we increase the property tax, or add a tax to foods that makes us fat?  Cities and counties in Alabama have to quit relying on sales tax increases to fund things.  Several cities in Alabama have a 10% sales tax.  How long before the sales tax could be 11%, 12%, or even 13%?  Alabama has some of the highest sales taxes in the nation, we must come up with something more fairer than a sales tax.

If the City of Huntsville turns down the cost-sharing plan pitched by ALDOT, there will be virtually no construction on major roads such as Memorial Parkway and U.S. 72 for the next decade because of state funding woes.  That would mean standstill traffic, longer commute times and new industry choosing other cities with better roads.  It means you can kiss that Boeing contract goodbye.  Alabama has some of the worst maintained roads in the country, something in ALDOT needs to change, that is why I am a huge critic of ALDOT.

From AL.com

From AL.com

I love something that John Cooper said.  He said the ALDOT of old that covered the state with new highways is mostly a “memory,” replaced by an agency focused on maintaining existing roads.  So if ALDOT is focused on maintaining existing roads, why are they wanting to build a 52-mile, $5.45 Billion Northern Beltline?  Is it because it would relieve traffic from Downtown Birmingham?  Or is it because influential corporate interests are seeking to gain financially from development along the Northern Beltline and are dictating where Alabama’s transportation dollars go?

Look, ALDOT and the state of Alabama needs to do something about our road funding problems.  Low gas-tax revenues are merely a piece of the problem.  The state needs to fix our growing backlog of roads in desperate need of maintenance, but ALDOT has a different priority that will compete with funding for these fixes for the next 4 decades.  We should be building and maintaining roads that actually matter instead of building a six-lane freeway which I think won’t matter for fixing the traffic in Birmingham.  A good example is the TN 840 southern loop in the Nashville Metro.  It’s complete but way too long to be a good bypass around Nashville.

To sign a petition asking Governor Bentley to stop the Northern Beltline, go to:  http://petitions.moveon.org/sign/governor-bentley-stop-1