McCall: ATRIP projects should be complete by end of next summer

Published 4:51 pm Tuesday, October 13, 2015

A three-year, $10.3 million effort to improve roadways in Butler County is nearing completion.

Butler County Engineer Dennis McCall expects Butler County’s Alabama Transportation Rehabilitation and Improvement Program (ATRIP) projects to be completed by the end of next summer.

ATRIP is the largest road and bridge improvement program in Alabama’s history.

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McCall said a preconstruction conference for the county’s resurfacing project on Gravel Hill Road and West Dogwood Trail is slated for Thursday.

“My best guess is when we have that conference they will present a request for time suspension due to seasonal limitations,” McCall said.  “Nov. 1 is the seasonal cutoff date for surface treatments. Likely those projects will start back up in early March.”

McCall said the remaining ATRIP projects will likely be let for bid during the winter and construction will begin in the spring.

“We’ll have a busy spring and summer,” he said.

Only major collector roads, or roadways which serve 500 vehicles a day, and bridges qualify for the funding through ATRIP, and city and county governments must provide a 20 percent match for approved projects. Funding for ATRIP comes through the use of Grant Anticipation Revenue Vehicles Bonds (GARVEE). Through the use of GARVEE bonds, Alabama is able to access future federal dollars now in order to pay for road and bridge projects that are needed immediately.

Butler County Commissioner Allin Whittle said that while the county has benefited from the projects, the program didn’t address the county’s greatest need, which is resurfacing its farm-to-market roads.

“When we first started talking about ATRIP we had to make some hard decisions about whether or not we’d be able to participate because of a shortage of funds,” Commissioner Allin Whittle said. “… I always ask myself, what if we had not participated in ATRIP and done nothing? Our situation was already bad with funds and then we had to come up with money we didn’t have and rearrange money, do without something to get something. I think ATRIP was overall a good thing even though ATRIP didn’t touch anything in regards to our farm-to-market roads.”

Many of the county’s farm-to-market roads were built in the 1950s. While the county has worked to maintain the roads, many are need of a complete resurfacing.

There are 544 miles of paved roads in Butler County. Out of those 544 miles, there are just more than 170 miles of major collector roads, or roads that direct traffic to minor arterials.

Roadwork on most county roads is funded by the state’s gasoline tax. Fifty-five percent goes to the state and 45 percent goes to the counties. out of the 45 percent that goes to the counties, 70 percent goes to the five counties with the greatest populations and the 62 other counties divide the remaining 30 percent.

Federal gasoline taxes collected in the state go back to the federal government and then returns with restrictions for usage. Butler County receives approximately $533,000 per year, which must be matched with 20 percent local funds.

Whittle says something must change.

“How long is the public going to stand for what’s going on? How long are they going to take it? How long are they going to take what’s going on with our state legislature, which filters down to us? We’re just an arm of the legislator to carry things out at the local level,” said Whittle. “It’s a farce. In my opinion it’s a farce for us to believe that we can continue doing what we did in 1970 and do it now with the same amount of money. I’m not advocating new taxes, but someone is going to have to stand up and be a statesman — fall on the sword or whatever you want to call it. Something has got to be done. I appreciate ATRIP, but it was a smokescreen when it came down the highway. If we hadn’t taken part in the smokescreen we wouldn’t have been able to redo the roads we’ve got now. I’m glad we took advantage of it, but it put us right back in a situation where soon we’re going to have to make some real hard decisions about how we fund county government here in Butler County. We’ve got to do better for the people who live on these rural roads.”

Commission Chairman Darrell Sanders agreed that ATRIP didn’t solve all the problems, but it did save some of the county’s roads from becoming trouble spots in years to come.

“It’s very easy to come to the conclusion that we did the right thing because if we didn’t those roads would be just as bad as the ones we talk about that are in horrible condition,” he said. “One thing I tell folks is that I’m sorry they have to drive on a bad road, but hopefully they don’t have to drive far before they get on a good one. With the state’s projects and our ATRIP projects hopefully that’s the case.”