Something is very wrong in the Land of Cotton



Dr. Robert Bullard
Environmental Justice Movement Founder

Monday, October 10, 2011

Dr. Bentley's Rx: Deception--Costs and In-Depth Details of Elevated Highway 280 Plan Remain Hidden

Works of "art" or outdated concrete behemoths?
August 11, 2010 Stan Diel Birmingham News--Dr. Robert Bentley, the Republican candidate for governor in the November election, today said he favors building an elevated toll road over U.S. 280 to relieve congestion.

Governor "Dr. Dr." Bentley prides himself on his medical curriculum vitae and claims to be the "smartest man ever elected governor of Alabama." He's convinced himself he's just what Alabama needs and will cure all of our ills with his own brand of corporate-infused republican medicine. Especially our so-called current state budget crisis that's resulted in deep cuts to education, slashed social services and a gutting of numerous programs that directly affect regular folks who are struggling just to get by.
“Alabama is hurting, and we need a doctor,” Bentley, a former dermatologist from Tuscaloosa, told voters in last year’s campaign. Once he took office in January and looked at the patient — the budget — he said: “We’re a lot worse off than you think.”
Predictably, the usual suspects joined in the chorus of misery: Speaker of the House Mike 'Road Man' Hubbard and Senator Jabo "Clueless" Waggoner. Neither of these two political animals experiences life by the drop as most of Alabama does. The same public who did not create the mess are the ones being asked to bleed for the good of the state's insiders economic prosperity--i.e. private profit equals public pain.

The 'Dr. who can't' seems oblivious to the practice of good-for-the-folks medicine, because he refuses to end cronyism, despite promises to the contrary, and he's created a public-private merger through ADO and EDPA that in effect allows wealthy private corporations an all access pass to the state till and taxpayer's money. In addition to allowing the appointing of like-minded players to power positions within the framework of the organization and to state offices.

Creating a public-private partnership, and placing it in the hands of Alabama schemers, won't remedy our politician and corporate inflicted ills--in fact, they'll only worsen the sickness of corruption that got us into the state we're in now by allowing more insiders to walk away with millions in taxpayer money and leave communities holding the bag. Corruption, theft and abandonment of long-standing public policy are real possibilities in PPPs as they give rise to entities larger than the original government: they can become monstrous-sized power structures with a full stranglehold on democracy and public good.
“Fascism should more appropriately be called Corporatism because it is a merger of state and corporate power” - Benito Mussolini
We're on a slippery slope that isn't going anywhere near the smaller government republicans swear they support.  Road building and economic development are the breeding grounds for these unholy alliances of state and corporate power. Foreign entities get in on the act too with groups like Cinta and Macquerie, who have been "nosing around in Alabama" looking for roads and bridges (Macquerie has one in Alabama already) to privatize and toll.

Will one of these two foreign investors own the Elevated Hwy 280 toll road? How can Alabama claim to pay for the project when the lion's share of toll fees will go out of the country? Isn't this selling off the state's infrastructure to the highest bidder? If the county a toll road runs through gets their hands on toll fees then Harris County, Texas should serve as a clear warning of the potential for misuse.
*(Must watch video at a republican campaign event in Texas of an audience member asking about PPP's and toll roads. The candidate sits down, a yes man jumps up, and with great animation addresses the audience member's query. Watch how quickly he evades real answers, executes a classic political bait and switch, and turns the argument into those "socialistic democrats" are the real problem lady!)

So many questions. So few demanding honest answers.

The special interests involved in the the antiquated Elevated Highway 280 plan are made up of some of these types of caballers: deep-pocketed campaign donors and selectively hand-picked beneficiaries of Alabama's supposedly hard-to-come-by greenbacks. Interests like the *road gang for one.
(*Section II-- "Who Is The Road Lobby?")

They're connected to Alabama's purse strings by way of Governors Riley and Bentley and consist of groups like: cement companies (ACPA SE, Cemex), an out-of-state engineering firm (Figg), and the strategically located likely road material supplier, White Rock Quarries (WRQ), who's set to blow the smithereens out of small town Vincent, Alabama. WRQ also just happens to be a subsidiary of the stinking rich Vecellio Group. Vecellio's subsidiaries include road building (Vecellio & Grogan is one of the largest in the nation) and asphalt companies among its corporate pool.

The coziness of certain players involved with the 280 idea and sheer coincidence of 'we do that too' is a bit too handy to discount as chance. Add to the mix that the second biggest take of the WRQ quarry profits goes straight into Shelby County's coffers, and their palpable disappointment that the project may not have gone forward starts to make a lot more sense to even a casual observer.

In March of 2010 ALDOT halted all work on the 280 project due to "a lack of consensus from local governments." Shelby County took a counter view to the Birmingham News and cried foul over the abrupt stoppage. (It's important to note that unchecked development by Shelby County created much of the traffic woes that exist on 280 today.) By the summer of 2010, after a full court press by certain entities working behind the scenes in all the cities that counted, from Jefferson to Shelby County, the project roared back to life as the must-build toll road to 'breathe life into our cities.'

Vincent's Mayor claimed the "town of Vincent cannot survive without the highway" and he used that claim to push through a fast vote on a resolution supporting the project. Does WRQ's Vincent Hills Quarry have anything to do with his fervent support and was he repeating instructed propaganda from BARD, who's creator and former Bentley transition team member, Stephen E. Bradley (Bradley & Associates), represents White Rock Quarries? Were Mr. Bradley and his BARD legal sidekick, Balch & Bingham lawyer Rob Fowler (also representing WRQ), the ones who led the charge to get as many cities on board as possible through those so-called supportive resolutions?

One other notable thread seems to run throughout the road gang and their high-minded ideas in Alabama: Figg Engineering.

CEO Linda Figg, who has close ties to Vecillio, suitably "impressed" former Governor Riley so much he put her company on the state dole in 2005. Figg has been raking in the megabucks from state coffers on projects around Alabama ever since, including the Hwy. 280 plan. She's a mover and shaker who carries substantial clout according to Concrete 2011:
Linda Figg: CEO Figg Engineering Group, Tallahassee, Florida, U.S.A. The Figg Group is a relatively small but highly influential consulting firm specialising in bridge engineering, with a portfolio of inspirational structures which have realised the company’s philosophy of ‘creating bridges as art.’
We would like to know why these special interest's projects, including the far from economically challenged Ms. Figg, don't seem to be suffering from the same "debridement procedure" that the good doctor governor is applying to programs that deeply hurt average and low-income Alabamians.

And why is ALDOT being evasive with their figures to Figg and others?

Queries have been made to ALDOT by numerous individuals asking for the full amount to date spent on (the now double its initial estimate of $800 million) the Elevated Highway 280 plan. So far, ALDOT is avoiding an honest answer. John Cooper, Director of Transportation for ALDOT, recently received the green light from Governor Bentley's ATRBTA board to "talk privately with an engineering company that (allegedly) came up with a lower cost estimate."
“Governor Robert Bentley believes transparency in government is critical to earning the trust of the people it serves.”
Bentley campaigned on that issue of transparency too. Yet, the board he chairs (and John Cooper sits on) thinks it's appropriate to conduct state business "privately" about a public use road project. Trust is gained through open transparency throughout a process and quickly lost by selectively applying transparency at will, Dr. Governor. Why is the cloak of unaccountability being thrown around your appointee Mr. Cooper?

What else is ARTBTA, Governor Bentley and ALDOT not telling us about this project?

And why can't the press get it right on what the actual figure is?

Birmingham News' transportation reporter, "Driving Miss Crazy" Ginny MacDonald, has stated in her online "Live Chat" that ALDOT has "paid out $316,000.00 on the Highway 280 study" as of early summer 2011. Where is she getting her low-balled information? From ALDOT's press chat room?

Ms. MacDonald has cited difficulty in obtaining the figure because of "ALDOT in-house work, private contractors, etc." but assured readers in the "Live Chat" forum she "will get the information" from ALDOT. 

We haven't experienced the degree of difficulty she claims to have encountered. In fact, without much effort, the VAC has a memo (displayed below) to ALDOT's Finance and Audits Department, dated June 8, 2010, requesting payment of a Figg Bridge Engineers invoice in the amount of $1,143,915.00.

That's just ONE invoice--from 16 months ago! And it's a much higher figure than Ms. MacDonald has been parroting to the public through the news media forum on a subject she claims to be knowledgeable about.

This one invoice is more information than has been reported in any news agency in the state on what has been charged to ALDOT --and state taxpayers-- by the company that has been working on the elevated toll road for years!

Transparency anyone?
Figg Eng. Invoice to ALDOT

More on this topic in a subsequent post about Governor Bentley recently repeating the Riley era mantra and asking the feds for sooner-than-agreed-to increases in Alabama's share of offshore oil and gas royalties. Road building and O&G royalties--yes, they are connected.
photo credit: David Johnstone
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  1. Nice work Max!
    Republicans adopting Agenda 21 issues, typically associated with the democrats and the e-vill socialist sect is really amusing.
    The right wing will never be happy until they turn the whole country over to private interests ie corporate America. Or as you point out foreign interests.
    Step right up, America for sale to the highest bidder!

  2. We do not need this highway especially with it doubling in cost! Cut down on the traffic lights, create more cut throughs and seriously consider the Kulash idea.
    Adding this proposal to the NB cost increase and we're up in the neighborhood of close to $7B for less than 75 miles of new road when our existing roads are in shambles. Fix what we have before you build anything else!

  3. Former president of the Southern Governors Association and would be president of the US Texas Governor Rick Perry is well versed in toll roads, Cinta and Macquerie. From what I hear Texans hate the f'ing toll roads but many a politician grew fat from the bribe money.

    January 7, 2009
    Reverse Engineering:
    Politicians Get Burned Paving Texas Backwards, From the Top Down
    “When our hair is gray, we will be able to tell our grandchildren that we were in a TxDOT meeting room when one of the most extraordinary plans was laid out for the people of Texas.”
    —Gov. Perry on his Trans-Texas Corridor vision, December 2004

    By Laura Bloomer
    Budget-crunched statehouses across the country increasingly are turning toward privatized pavement. Half of the states already have passed legislation permitting highway sales or leases, with one-third of these states passing the measures within the last three years.6 Texas is one of three pioneer governments that have begun to set their highway privatization policies in concrete. A consortium headed by Australia’s Macquarie Infrastructure Group and Spain’s Cintra Concesiones de Infraestructuras de Transporte agreed to pay the City of Chicago $1.8 billion in 2005 to lease the eight-mile Chicago Skyway for 99 years. The same consortium signed a bigger $3.8 billion deal the following year to operate the Indiana Toll Road for 75 years.


  4. 280 is a captive audience and just another excuse to get into our wallets if they go through with this insanity. To make matters worse, if it does wind up in foreign hands, guess who will set the toll fees? All the politicians will throw their hands up and point to anyone but themselves as the culprit.

  5. The thread I make note of is Bob Riley, EDPA and BARD the usual suspects in anything that profits them above all else.
    There's your real shadow government kids.

  6. Rats and snakes in a nest every last one of 'em!

  7. I wonder if the Vecellios admit to the uber rich Palm Beach crowd that the donations they make to philanthropic causes come from the destruction of low income communities. Probably not. It's not sexy.

  8. Name one thing this bumbling fool of a governor has done for regular Joes.

    Just one.


    He sure is doing plenty for the big britches crowd while he takes from the rest of us.

  9. Bentley signed Grover Norquist's pledge before he took the governorship.
    Make no mistake where his loyalties lie and lie and lie..infinite repeat....


    #FO OBSOLETE--2,084

    23% OF TOTAL SD FO

    Add to that the fact that 13% of Alabama's roads are in poor or mediocre condition according to TRIP and ask yourself why we are building more before repairing our existing roads and bridges. Someone has their priorities all askew.
    But then again Alabama did pass the law exempting the state from being sued again after the death of a South Carolina woman who's survivors got one million from the state, so maybe they aren't too worried if you or your loved ones die on Alabama's crappy roads.
    And maybe they could give a rip if your car repairs are higher than hell from these pig trails they call roads.
    Maybe all of us should care a lot more and stop settling for scraps from these big dog's bowls.

  11. Double-Double Toll and TroubleOctober 10, 2011 at 6:24 PM

    excerpt from a letter to the editor (Birmingham News) re the now double-priced double-decker Hwy 280 and those "free" federal dollars.

    Other money' to build elevated U.S. 280 means taxpayers' money
    Published: Saturday, October 08, 2011, 5:34 AM

    This is in response to the front-page article in Tuesday's Birmingham News regarding the U.S. 280 elevated road ("Elevated toll road gets look by state"). What do you mean "gets look by state"? Where on Earth have Alabama Department of Transportation officials been the past decade?

    We have known for years some cities and individuals oppose an elevated toll road. The News article makes it sound like this is something new. Some of us south of Interstate 459 (the exterior) and just down U.S. 280 also oppose an elevated toll road.

    Can someone please define "other money," as used in the article when it's said the road will be paid for with federal, state or other money? Why not just say 100 percent taxpayer funded? I believe a study on this new data is necessary.

  12. The ALDOT plan does not offer free alternatives of frontage roads running parallel to the toll road. Should we to anticipate as much as %5.00 or more to travel one way on 280?
    From where I perch, that's a tax hike on commuters that's going to have profound effects on monthly family budgets.
    Where are the gas tax revenues Alabama is collecting going?

  13. yardbird, I'm betting the only alternative that ALDOT would consider would be an even bigger and more expensive 280 plan.

    This project reeks. Thanks, Max, for exposing what the state media will not report or even investigate!

  14. It is more than just worrisome or disturbing to me that the news media are under the thumb of such powerful forces. What's the difference whether it's a dictator suppressing information or BARD? The end result is the same, isn't it? John Q. Taxpayer has to fund projects he doesn't want and can't even find out what they really cost.

    Good for you guys at VAC for digging deeper.

  15. New media rules.
    Traditional press is dead.
    Wouldn't it be nice if we could say the same thing about this insane project?

  16. Annette in AlabamaOctober 11, 2011 at 7:04 PM

    “Alabama is hurting, and we need a doctor,” Bentley - how many of us would go to our dermatologist for political advice?

  17. VAC, WOW! I followed one of your links and found information there worth repeating re campaign contributions to Alabama's current governor --who endorsed the toll road-- from cement companies. Your info--excerpted-- pasted in below for the benefit of any who overlooked the link in blog post. ---

    On August 11, 2010 the Birmingham News ran a story entitled: "Robert Bentley Supports Elevated Toll Road For US 280"

    The campaign contribution records for Dr. Bentley show that the very next day, August 12, 2010, that two very large contributions were recorded from Cemex and American Concrete Pavement Association (ACPA).

    CEMEX Inc, Employees PAC 920 Memorial City Way STE. 100 Houston, Texas 77024 amount: $25,000.00
    ACPA Southeast Chapter (American Concrete Pavement Association) 1745 Platt Place Montgomery, Alabama 36177 amount: $50,000.00

    A third large donation from a company that may stand to benefit from the elevated Highway 280 project:
    Eddie Lumpkin (Lumpkin Development LLC) 3020 Mt. Brook Pkwy. Bham, Ala. 35223 amount: $10,000.00

    And this one from Mississippi's Governor Haley Barbour's own PAC, not from a Republican PAC which would be expected:
    (What's Mr. Big Oil and Gas doing messing around in the Alabama Governor's race for anyway?)

    Haley's PAC (Barbour) P. O. Box 1186 Jackson, Mississippi 39215 amount: $2,500.00

    That's a real quick $87,500.00 one day after Dr. Bentley announced his support for the highway.

    Does it look like he may have been paid for his public endorsement? Reader decide.


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