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Planning Snafu Sinks Funds for $100 Million in Alabama Work

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Even as Alabama transportation officials say federal stimulus money will not cover all the state’s necessary projects, the Birmingham region will soon lose access to $100 million in public transit funds because affected municipalities haven’t put together a plan after four years. The Federal Transit Administration money was set aside in a 2005 highway bill with the intent of lessening traffic in the Interstate 65 corridor between Birmingham and northern Shelby County. Disbursement was conditional on an approved plan and 20% local matching funds. Engineers are analyzing traffic-mitigation strategies, but intercommunity cooperation has not coalesced in time for a plan to be completed by Sept. 30, when the bill will expire. Even if the bill were extended, it probably would not be for long enough for greater Birmingham to tap the funds, which will almost certainly be spent elsewhere. Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) says he will fight to retain the funds. In 2000, $80 million was set aside for Birmingham-Jefferson County transit projects, but planners drew down only a fraction of that money, which went toward a $3.5-million analysis that is still being conducted.

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