Madison seeks its share of state road funding

By Staff
Thomas Tingle
Record Managing Editor
City leaders in Madison say they want to make sure they are getting their fair share of state funds for local road improvement projects.
However, the formula needed to get those funds has been a challenge for the city.
According to Madison Community Department Director Bob Atallo, most road funds are federal funds that are passed through the Alabama Department of Transportation through the Metropolitan Planning Organization process. He said there is some actual state money as well.
Madison City Engineer Jo Somers said the Census Bureau designates urbanized areas when it comes to traffic purposes. Huntsville's urbanized area is an area designated by the Census Bureau and includes the city of Huntsville, the city of Madison, as well as parts of Madison County. Somers said Huntsville's urbanized area grew to more than 200,000 residents in the last census.
"Montgomery's urbanized area fell below the 200,000 population mark. With Huntsville's urbanized area growing, this means that we are now designated as a Transportation Management Area.
Atallo said this means that new funding sources for local road projects is available, but other funding sources that used to be available no longer apply to the area.
"We don't know whether this makes our TMA better off or worse off than before," Atallo said. "Its affect on Madison per se is also uncertain at this point."
Atallo said the Huntsville Planning Department was under contract with the ALDOT to all the traffic planning for the Huntsville TMA. As a result, Madison has not gotten its fair share of road building money.
"The Federal Highway Administration distributes road funds to the states and the state designates a number of MPO's to plan how to use those funds," Atallo said. "ALDOT has designated and coordinates 11 MPO's in Alabama, each one doing the planning for an urbanized area."
Atallo said in Alabama, Mobile and Birmingham are also designated as TMA's.
"The MPO's operate by a governing board, which in the case of our MPO' consists of the mayor of Huntsville, a Huntsville city council member, the mayor of Madison, the mayor of Triana, the mayor of New Hope, a representative from ALDOT, and the executive director of the TARCOG," Atallo said. "The MPO staff is three Huntsville city planners, whose salaries are reimbursed by ALDOT."
Atallo said the staff does all the transportation research, traffic counts, etc., and plans for new roads and prepares the reports and recommendation which the governing board acts on. He said there is also a Technical Coordinating Committee, which he and Somers are both on that meets 30 minutes before the governing board.
"We really don't have much time to meet, formulate our recommendation and communicate with the governing board before they vote," Atallo said. "The MPO governing board votes to adopt the planning documents and sends its adopted plan to ALDOT. ALDOT makes the final decision on what gets funded and when. As you can imagine from this description, there is the potential for political influence at a number of steps in this process and I believe that is exactly what Gov. Bob Riley was talking about when he promised to get politics out of the road building process."
Madison City Council member Cynthia McCollum said there is some type of formula that Madison hasn't learned to get its fair share of state funds and that something needs to be done to learn that formula.
"There are a number of funding sources that the MPO taps into and Huntsville has three full-time staff, access to the ALDOT staff to research and access this funding," Atallo said. "We currently don't have those kind of resources to do the same."
Mayor Jan Wells, along with Atallo, said Madison has hired Hal Bloom and Bradley Arendt Rose and White to help Madison secure funding at the state level, including road funds.
"Huntsville has had a similar presence in Montgomery for years," Atallo said. "Our lobbyist also has offices in Washington, D.C. to help with accessing Federal funds. I think we all hope that they can help us to overcome the obstacles to state and federal funding that we have faced."

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