19 Apr Infrastructure, Infrastructure, Infrastructure
“Things do not happen. They are made to happen.” John F. Kennedy
Quality of life hinges directly on the infrastructure we have in place – especially here, where we are growing faster than anywhere in Alabama, as well as most places in the US. Infrastructure takes time to plan, and more time to put into place. When highway construction projects commence, one of my favorite colloquialisms – “moving at the speed of government” – can be on full display. In most of my conversations about growth and infrastructure, most people start with roads and traffic. It is a big one, but I’ll close with traffic.
Seattle may have more rainy days, but when it rains here, it really rains. We are blessed to have a very healthy aquifer below us here in Coastal Alabama where we receive a greater volume of rain than anywhere in the US. We do not have the salt-water intrusion issues of South Florida, and we do not have pollution from farming activities around us. The County Commission appoints many of the folks that serve on water authority boards around the county. Many of our water providers around the county are interconnected, which allow for reliable service if one has a well or treatment problem.
Storm water quality and volumes are a major concern. Since the April 2013 flood, we have performed over $18 million in drainage improvement projects across the southern half of the county. With regard to growth, development, and regulations, Baldwin County is looking at storm water issues as watershed management. This is a different perspective for a governmental body, and it requires thinking across our geopolitical lines for the watershed. Water doesn’t care where the city limits are. The County Commission has already created a computer model for the Fish River watershed, and we are working in partnership with several municipalities and Roberta Swann with her team at Mobile Bay National Estuary Program to generate the computer models and watershed management plans for D’Olive Creek, Magnolia River, and Wolf Bay watersheds. Once these plans look at the modeling, we will be able to look at project impacts, and engineers can design drainage systems in consideration of the watershed as a whole. Working to these design criteria collectively across watersheds partnering with municipalities is critical to our ability to responsibly grow.
People do not often think about broadband as a critical infrastructure system, but it becomes more important each day as we rely on technology to perform jobs in an evolving economy. Many work from home and must rely on quality internet service to make a living. Baldwin County continues to diversify beyond tourism into manufacturing and technology, and we must have larger broadband capabilities. I’m not interested in the government being a commercial provider, but we are working to find companies that will bring greater capacity and better competition to our market for better pricing and speeds in our area.
Classrooms are a critical infrastructure component that must constantly be analyzed and improved. We have worked closely with the Baldwin County Board of Education to brainstorm a plan for adding more classrooms around the entire county by implementing a program that pays cash every four years. Beyond the benefit of increasing capacity, we do not incur long-term debt, and it enables the BCBE the flexibility to adjust its needs in shorter time periods to address more immediate needs. I’m proud of this smart plan that required the input and teamwork of many people around the county.
When you gave me this job in 2010, Hwy 181 had been four-laned to CR 64 four years prior with no further plans in sight, the Beach Express going north stopped at CR 32, improvements for 31 weren’t even on the radar, and Canal Road was two lanes. Most of our big traffic capacity problems were on state roads. A big group of we, regional, state leaders, and ALDOT Director John Cooper have collaborated to increase our capacities. The Beach Express to I-10 was completed in 2013. Canal Road saw some widening last year and further improvements in the Orange Beach at 161 and the Gulf Shores end are funded and currently being designed. Lane additions to Hwy 31 have started, and two lanes will be added to 181 running south through 104 beginning in May or June, and then going further south in a couple of years. ALDOT will also significantly improve the traffic flow over I-10 at 181 with a diverging diamond in the next several months. We installed an adaptive signaling project on Hwy 98 from I-10 south through Fairhope that should show increased traffic efficiencies in the next few months. The RESTORE Council has approved funding for the Right of Way purchase for the Beach Express to I-65. We will get that built. The County has built three roundabouts to increase capacity, and we have three more to build in the next couple of years to improve traffic around the Eastern Shore. The I-10 Bridge is closer to reality than ever. Our next challenges are increasing capacity East and West across the county in a couple of areas, paving more dirt roads, and continuing the four lane improvements of 31 to 59.
I tried to shorten this post up, but there are many successes and challenges to share with you. Our region is working together solving problems, and we are accomplishing goals, improving, and updating our infrastructure as we grow into the future. Thank you for taking the time to read my posts on Baldwin County. If you want to learn more, all of my posts are on www.tuckerdorsey.com. Thanks for allowing me to do this job I am passionate to perform with excellence every day.