Vector Map Alabama State US


Transportation funding in Alabama is at a critical stage. Many stakeholders and
policymakers involved in transportation planning – including professional planners, the
Alabama Department of Transportation (ALDOT), road and bridge builders, citizens’ groups,
and suppliers of transportation services and equipment – now realize that the traditional
methods of funding transportation infrastructure are becoming increasingly unsustainable
each year. Revenues are shrinking as prices (and demands on the system) are increasing.
The problem has many causes, including: (1) sharp increases in vehicles’ fuel efficiency,
resulting in reduced fuel tax revenue, (2) a growing transition away from gasoline to
alternative fuels, including electricity, (3) rising costs of infrastructure construction projects
and (4) lack of political will to raise gasoline taxes or seek alternative long-term revenue
sources for transportation infrastructure.
Further, demographic and economic changes are restructuring the nature of Alabama’s
transportation system. In the next two decades, the number of U.S. drivers over age 70 will
triple, posing the challenge of balancing safety concerns with those of personal liberty. A
system designed for single-passenger automobiles isolates many elderly and disabled
citizens, as well as other people unable to afford the ever-increasing costs of automobile
ownership and maintenance.
This report considers changes to our state’s transportation system, building on some
notable strengths and successes and guided by considerations of what Alabama needs to
do to yield maximum economic return. At the same time, this report envisions an Alabama
where all citizens have a chance to make a positive contribution.
Transportation infrastructure is widely recognized as an essential determinant of a
community’s economic development. Recent decades have seen a revolution in online
interconnectivity, yet Alabama’s physical infrastructure has failed to keep pace with the new
benefits of connectivity provided by virtual and digital spheres.
Transportation infrastructure is both the skeleton upon which an economy is built and the
bloodstream through which resources flow to serve all parts of the region. This report
examines what we know and do not know about Alabama’s transportation system, keeping
in mind the goal of developing a comprehensive transportation system as a primary driver
for economic development. In this sense, our vision of a comprehensive system involves
job creation in building and operating such a system, coupled with the development of more
attractive communities providing quality environments in which residents can “age in place.”
Such communities are those that people around the world seek out for working, raising
families and retiring within a life-enriching environment.
Alabama has some notable success stories of transportation investments yielding
tangible benefits for its citizens. These accomplishments are even more impressive
considering that Alabama is one of five states providing no state funding to complement
federal and local public transportation programs. However, Alabama also has some glaring
weaknesses that can greatly benefit from an improved approach to planning and funding,
guided by a persistent stakeholder community.
• Inability to quantify Alabama’s unmet transportation needs. This deficiency
prevents development of a cost-benefit analysis for investments in transportation
options. Existing sources of data about public transportation in Alabama are difficult
to acquire and frequently inadequate and inaccurate.
• Lack of political will to incorporate public transportation into transportation
planning tools. Alabama’s transportation planners have failed to incorporate public
transportation into analysis of the state’s needs. Though funding exists for planning,
data have not been collected to assess public transportation deficiencies fully.
• Failure to see the shared goals of road-building interests and supporters of
other modes of transportation. Many stakeholders have difficulty seeing the longterm economic benefits that would flow from a more balanced approach to
transportation planning. A consequence is that the stakeholders too often are
divided into “road and bridge folks” pitted against promoters of alternative
transportation methods like buses, light rail and bicycles. Division rather than unity
means we all lose in the long run, and Alabama falls further behind.
• Inability to see beyond the single-occupancy-vehicle mindset. Alabamians
generally have placed a stigma on using and funding mass transit and public
transportation. Alabama’s car culture has created unhealthy dependence in a state
noted for independence. Alabama leads the nation in the percentage of residents
relying on automobiles to access employment, and the state’s per capita road crash
fatality rate is well above the national average. The overwhelming dependence on
automobiles makes the state unattractive to many who have experienced welloperated public transportation elsewhere.
• Funding restrictions. The Alabama Constitution prohibits use of gasoline tax
revenues for anything other than road and bridge projects. In an era when new
revenue sources are extremely controversial, removing constitutional earmarks on
gasoline tax revenue would increase flexibility for budget writers. However, with the
pool of gas tax money shrinking, many road and bridge builders are reluctant to allow
money to be redirected from a decreasing funding stream.
• Rural isolation. Alabama struggles to help people in rural areas get into cities for
needed services. This isolation often depresses economic development and
discourages living in small towns. High fuel costs add to the cost of living in areas
that are, without access to automobiles, fundamentally cut off from the rest of
Alabama. County boundaries can add additional layers of complication, political
squabbling and bureaucracy.
• Urban fragmentation. Alabama’s largest city, Birmingham, is a perfect example of
the struggles experienced by Alabama’s urban areas. Nearly 30,000 households in
the Birmingham metropolitan area lack access to an automobile. Urban access to
automobiles can be difficult to measure, because people without cars frequently
move to neighborhoods served by transit. However, relying on bus service is a
challenge in many cities. Fares are steadily increasing. Buses are often late, and
many lack adequate heating and cooling. Many bus stops also lack shelter from the
elements. Cities often struggle to find enough money in tight budgets to provide
reliable bus service on routes serving high-density areas. Overlapping city
boundaries and political turf battles further complicate provision of service.
Short-term recommendations:
 Alabama’s transportation stakeholders should seek greater transparency of funding
distribution across agencies and programs. Before the public can develop passion for
change, people must understand where and how their tax dollars are being spent.
 Solutions to the problems facing urban bus systems are relatively simple. Policymakers
should make substantial investments in larger fleets, create streamlined and userfriendly transit maps, and install more benches and shelter at bus stops. Planners in
congested cities like Birmingham also should consider devoting portions of heavily
trafficked roads to dedicated bus lanes.
 Alabama should be more transparent in public transportation data collection and
incorporate more of those data into planning. Existing data collection emphasizes an
inventory of machinery, rather than assessing the usefulness of existing transportation
systems. This stands in sharp contrast with Alabama’s extensive evaluation of road
congestion and areas seeking additional road and bridge construction. We should
refocus our planning efforts to include consideration of the economic development
effects of public transportation systems.
 The federal government requires transportation projects to consider the needs of
bicyclists and pedestrians. Alabama should enforce and verify these requirements
during the design and planning phase of projects. Too much of our state’s infrastructural
planning discounts these options early in the design process.
Longer-term recommendations:
 Transportation stakeholders should identify and build on Alabama’s transportation
success stories as models for how to proceed in the future. Such modeling should
include consideration (especially at the regional planning level) of the effects of
Alabama’s accelerating demographic shifts and the increasing economic pressure on
transportation funding sources. Though public education and stakeholder buy-in are
needed across the state, Alabamians cannot wait for a single comprehensive and
statewide solution.
 Alabama would benefit from the creation of a third-party nonprofit consumer watchdog to
help citizens draw meaningful conclusions from data about public transportation
services. Riders and voters need to be better educated about the policies that
determine access to (and quality of) public transportation options.
 Future transportation spending plans in Alabama should account for a likely cultural shift
– driven by changing demographics, economic factors and service needs – toward
broader public support for non-automobile transportation options. It is critical for
advocates to build the political will needed to ensure funding streams for construction of
public transportation infrastructure are viable. Public transportation systems cost money.
There are costs to build infrastructure, costs to maintain and repair it, and costs to
employ people to do those things. Alabamians serious about public transportation must
create a climate in which the public sees these investments as valuable ones that they
are willing to make.


Author: Kirill Shrayber, Ph.D.

I have been working with vector cartography for over 25 years, including GPS, GIS, Adobe Illustrator and other professional cartographic software.

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