The price of a 16-gallon fill-up in Alabama will include almost $1 in additional taxes starting Sept. 1, but state officials say motorists will benefit from additional road projects, including the widening of Interstate 565.
The six-cent state gas tax increase that begins next month is the first increment of the 10-cent hike approved this year by legislators and Gov. Kay Ivey.
When fully implemented, the increase will generate about $320 million a year for road and bridge projects. The first five state projects have already been identified, including two in Limestone County.
“When we began on the road to Rebuild Alabama, I promised our state we would see real results, real improvements and a promising future,” Ivey told Alabama Daily News recently. “On top of the state dollars, all 67 counties and every municipality will receive additional revenue to be used for roads and bridges. We have already announced the first wave of projects coming from the additional revenue at the state level — for Limestone, Madison, Tuscaloosa, Cherokee and Autauga counties — and the local governments will begin unveiling their projects as well.
"The additional dollars from Rebuild Alabama are intended to be spread throughout the state and not just for one particular area or project.”
The tax increase was a priority issue for the Republican-led Legislature this year after other attempts failed in recent years. The state’s 18-cent gas tax has remained unchanged since 1992. Of the 140 state legislators, 111 of them voted for the increase. Money for local road projects was a big incentive for them.
"For years and years, all across the state, we’ve had demand for capacity projects just like what is happening on (U.S.) 82 in Prattville," Sen. Clyde Chambliss, R-Prattville, said. "And there are projects like that all across the state, so the gas tax is going to be a real help to everyone, and people should start seeing improvements all across the state in the coming years."
Alabama cities and towns will get an additional $26 million a year when the tax is fully implemented. Counties will receive an additional $80 million.
"It's a game-changer for us," said Sonny Brasfield, executive director of the Association of County Commissions of Alabama. "The increase in revenue is a game-changer, but so is every county saying that we will make this process as transparent and effective as possible."
The five announced projects include two in the Tennessee Valley.
The first is resurfacing lanes on I-565 from I-65 to County Line Road and adding an additional lane in each direction, making it six lanes.
The second is the expansion of the interchange on I-65 at Tanner, widening Browns Ferry Road westward to U.S. 31.
Ivey has said these projects are needed to increase access to the Mazda Toyota assembly plant under construction in Limestone County, and to relieve congestion on I-565, which sees nearly 60,000 vehicles traveling on it daily.
The third project will be to expand the right of way of McFarland Boulevard (U.S. 82) in Tuscaloosa from State Route 69 to Rice Mine Road.
Ivey said it will provide safer and more efficient travel for that particular section of U.S. 82, which is one of Alabama’s busiest four-lane roads. She said more than 50,000 trips are made daily on the main east-west corridor through Tuscaloosa.
It is a two-phase project, with the right-of-way acquisition in the first year and construction beginning in the second year.
Rep. Chris England, D-Tuscaloosa, voted for the gas tax increase because he liked how it would bring a boost to the local and state economy. The tax increase legislation says the new revenue can’t be spent on salaries, equipment or property.
"Your money is going to be used to fix our roads and bridges and improve our infrastructure, period." England said.
The fourth project will be to widen U.S. 82 in Prattville and to complete the Prattville Bypass.
Chambliss said while he understands the financial impact the tax increase may have on motorists initially, the payback in improvements to the state economy will also be felt by taxpayers.
"Obviously, it is a hit to people's pocketbooks," Chambliss said. "That's the unfortunate side, but the good side is that because of better infrastructure fixes happening now and in the future, that will make them able to have a growing economy, which provides jobs and provides more money in people’s pockets."
The fifth and final project is to widen U.S. Highway 411, which will help drivers in Cherokee and Etowah counties.
Cherokee County is one of 16 counties in Alabama that currently does not have a four-lane route to an interstate.
The gas tax legislation includes an annual $200 fee on electric vehicles and a $100 annual fee on hybrid vehicles. The bill also sets aside $11.7 million of the revenue to be used for a bond issue for improvements at the Port of Mobile.
The official start date for these projects has not been released, but Tony Harris, government relations manager for ALDOT, said the revenue from the gas tax will need to accumulate first.
Harris said a possible starting date could be mid-summer or early-fall of 2020.
Some lawmakers who voted against the increase were first-time lawmakers and saw that they had to make a difficult choice for their first vote in the Legislature.
"I had just run a successful campaign on smaller government and less taxes," said Rep. Jamie Kiel, R-Russellville. "I often make a correlation with how at home, my wife and I have a budget and we must live within our means and that government should operate the same way. I went to Montgomery and the very first vote was to raise taxes. I could not in good conscience vote to do the very thing that I had just run against."
Sen. Larry Stutts, R-Tuscumbia, said he had to vote against the tax raise because of a possible automatic increase in the future. After the full 10-cent state gas tax increase is fully implemented in 2021, it will then be adjusted up or down with the National Highway Construction Cost Index and could increase up to a penny every two years.
"I still think that raising taxes should be painful, deliberate and require someone to vote on it," Stutts said. "So, to have a built-in increase that goes up every two years from now on, with no limit, I think that’s fundamentally wrong."
The joint House and Senate Committee for Transportation is scheduled to meet Oct. 3, when they will likely discuss plans for the gas tax revenue after the first year.