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Shelby bill would put $480 million towards roads

Maybe his car hit a deep enough pothole on his way from Demopolis to Livingston a couple of weeks ago. Maybe he got caught behind a logger truck that he couldn’t pass.

During a town hall meeting two weeks ago in Demopolis, U.S. Sen. Richard Shelby told the gathering how important transportation money is to him. He unveiled a graph to support the claim. And Friday afternoon, he unveiled a release to the media solidifying his claim.

The U.S. Senate has adopted an amendment authored by Shelby that will bring $480 million to a newly established Delta Regional Transportation Program.

The legislation, which passed 72-21 in the Senate, now must pass through the U.S. House of Representatives and be signed by President Bush.

In essence, the money — distributed in $80 million increments over the next six years — will provide federal funds for transportation infrastructure development in the counties that are part of the Delta Regional Authority.

“The link between the transportation infrastructure and economic development is unmistakable,” Shelby said.

The DRA, formed more than three years ago to help improve infrastructure through a slice of the southern United States, includes Marengo, Sumter, Hale, Greene and Perry counties.

In late 2003, the DRA learned that its federal funding had been slashed to just $5 million — which is to be distributed to more than 240 counties and parishes in the South. The Demopolis higher education center is being funded from a DRA grant the city received in 2002.

During his town hall meeting in Demopolis two weeks ago, Shelby fielded several questions about transportation funding in this region. Shelby, who outlined his achievement in securing funding for Corridor X — which connects Birmingham to Memphis — said transportation projects have to be taken “one at a time.” He did not mention this piece of legislation that will provide $480 million to eight southern states.

“Establishing a transportation program specifically for the Delta Region is a crucial step toward promoting economic development, raising the standard of living, and improving quality of life in this traditionally impoverished region,” Shelby said.

While $80 million a year breaks down to just $10 million each year for the eight states covered in the Delta region, the funding is step in what had grown to be a dwindling budget for West Alabama and the Black Belt.

In an earlier appropriations bill, Marengo County received no money from the federal government.

“I will work to ensure that funding for this program is included in the final version of this bill,” said Shelby, who still must work to get his legislation passed through the House.