Important projects must come before we tackle elaborate ones

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, February 3, 2004

A radio station can only play the same song 100 times a day for so long. Eventually, listeners tire of the song and change the channel.

Either the citizens of West Alabama are about to change the channel, or a bunch of phone calls need to be made to the radio station in Washington, D.C.

U.S. Sen. Richard Shelby is considered one of the most powerful senators in Washington, D.C. Sunday morning news programs jump at the chance at obtaining Shelby as a guest. The New York Times and the Associated Press call him when they want a quote from a U.S. Senator. After Shelby’s town hall meeting on Saturday, Republican Senate leader Bill Frist, R-Tennessee, called Shelby on his cell phone.

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There’s little controversy about the political weight Shelby carries around our nation’s Capitol, and it’s quite flattering to know Shelby is a native of Tuscaloosa — an hour’s drive from most communities in West Alabama.

Saturday’s town hall meeting was frustrating, in a sense, because Shelby did little to assure West Alabama of any real federal assistance we might obtain to bolster economic development. In fact, the Senator spent more time talking about projects in other corners of the state than he did talking about our region.

In the case of transportation — the most vital issue facing our area — Shelby talked about the inordinate amount of money he’s brought to Alabama during his tenure as chairman of a subcommittee in the U.S. Senate that doles out transportation money.

The only problem, of course, was that Shelby couldn’t find many check stubs with Marengo, Hale, Greene, Sumter or Perry counties on them.

It wouldn’t be fair to blame Shelby for leading the construction of Corridor X, which will connect Birmingham to Memphis. For the people of Northwest Alabama, that’s an important project that will create a tremendous economic boom.

But when it came time to talk about transportation in West Alabama, Shelby wanted to look at the massive project — expanding Interstate 85 from Montgomery to Meridian, Miss. — instead of the most important project, which is the completion of U.S. Highway 80.

Building an interstate between Montgomery and Meridian forever will change West Alabama. Building an interstate between Montgomery and Meridian also will take about 30 years, and we cannot wait that long.

Shelby has the political power in Washington, D.C., to accomplish anything he wants. With his 6-year term complete this year, and an election just nine months away, no one has announced they will run against the Senator.

In terms of political stability, Shelby stands absolutely no chance of losing his seat in Washington.

With that stability, and with his roots in West Alabama, we ask Shelby to continue his wonderful work for the entire state but expend a little more effort to change the poorest region of his state.

We have no major road projects in West Alabama, and Shelby chairs the subcommittee that provides the funding for those projects. To add insult, Shelby brought $290 million to Alabama in other non-transportation projects, and not one penny came to Marengo County.

If Shelby can’t help us on the government level, no one can.