Stimulus package could bring new life to Selma

Published 7:29 pm Thursday, January 29, 2009

The massive stimulus plan is a key way of helping the Black Belt in Alabama, especially in Selma and Dallas County, according to economic forecasters.

City and county officials have compiled lists of shovel-ready projects that could benefit from the recovery package. Wayne Vardaman, executive director of the Selma & Dallas County Economic Development Authority, said he had sent the projects to the state already. The Craig Field Airport and Industrial Authority Board also have plans for major projects.

President Barack Obama believes the $888 billion economic stimulus plan will pull the country out of the year-old recession.

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But a group of conservative Senate Republicans, including Jeff Sessions of Alabama, have promised to vote against the plan. “This plan has been marketed as a major investment in America’s infrastructure and a quick job creator.  But if you look closely at the details, for the massive $900 billion price tag, we will see less than one-half of one percent invested in roads in the next two years,” Sessions said.  “Taxpayers should wonder why they are being asked to take on historic amounts of debt in the name of economic recovery, when much of the impact of the spending won’t be seen until after the economy has rebounded.”

Despite Sessions’ opposition, the package has lifted hopes here in Selma and Dallas County.

Vardaman declined to release a list of projects sent to the state from Dallas County and Selma, but said the Dallas County Commission submitted some plans for road improvements and Selma submitted roads and other infrastructure needs. The county’s two industrial parks also want a bit of the pie.

Charlotte Griffeth, director of Selma Community Development Department, said the city submitted plans for projects that are ready for construction. “I think Selma is in a good position to receive some of this stimulus money,” she said.

For example, the proposed interpretive center on the corner of Broad Street and Water Avenue is one project that’s ready for some bricks and mortar. The interpretive center will contain photographs and memorabilia from the civil rights era and will provide hands-on educational opportunities for students in the Black Belt, similar to the one that opened in 2006 in Lowndes County.

Additionally, the city could see some stimulus money for construction of Riverfront Park, 12 acres that will stretch from the northeast corner of the Edmund Pettus Bridge to the corner of Water Avenue and Martin Luther King Jr. Street.

Phase one of this project includes a pedestrian entrance on Green Street and 2,600 linear feet of 10-foot wide, concrete sidewalks, with occasional brick banding along the Alabama River. It also includes overlooks and a pedestrian bridge.

Other items on the wish list: sewer and storm drainage projects and street resurfacing.

Griffeth said the stimulus money will provide construction jobs with the end result of putting people to work. “It keeps the money local.”

Out at Craig Field, the airport board wants to resurface a pair of taxiways that engineer Donnie Hogg estimates have not been paved in more than 40 years. The project would cost about $827,000 and would also see a third taxiway re-striped.

The board expects more than $806,000 in federal and state funds from the stimulus package. The airport authority would have to match more than $20,000.

Because there is only a preliminary timetable set for aviation projects once the stimulus bill passes, there is a push to get in near the front of the line.

“The number we’re hearing is you’ve got to have it ready for construction and sign a construction contract in 120 days,” Hogg said. “That means you’ve got an accelerated design period, you’ve got to advertise the bids and open bids.”

Age and daily use have caused excessive debris from loose rocks in the asphalt.

“It would behoove us to take advantage of this,” said Dr. James Mitchell, board president.

Alabama’s governor and lieutenant governor agree that Congress should pass an economic stimulus plan, but they disagree about which one it should be.

Democratic Lt. Gov. Jim Folsom Jr. says he supports the House package that passed Wednesday. He says it’s dramatic action that must be taken for America to have an economic recovery.

Republican Gov. Bob Riley said Thursday he prefers the package being discussed in the Senate. He says it treats states more fairly than the House version. He said some states got projects built into the House version before other states knew that was an option.

Both of Alabama’s U.S. senators and all but Rep. Artur Davis among its seven House members oppose the House stimulus plan.