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Senator fields questions at Linden cafe

When Sen. Shelby entered Tina’s Cafe in Linden Thursday morning there was one local issue everyone had at the top of the list.

Since the first time an extension of Interstate 85 from Montgomery to Cuba was mentioned people in Marengo County have wondered and hoped the route would benefit them as much as possible.

The exact route has yet to be determined, Shelby said, but he wanted the people of Marengo County to know he has fought for them.

“This could help this area and I want you to know I did my share to jumpstart this,” Shelby said. “I told the governor I had it going if they could do something with it. I was able to get $100 million, which is your tax money, to jumpstart this.”

The foundation is there, Shelby said, he just hopes the state takes full advantage of it.

“I hope it will not be in vain,” Shelby said. “I hope they will do something with it because this could help you in the Black Belt and all of us. But, it needs to be done.”

Demopolis Mayor Cecil P. Williamson said Marengo County is grateful for Shelby’s help. She also wondered if the federal government had considered creating a transportation system of its own.

“Looking at the environment and how much we are paying for gas, I have wondered if Congress has entertained the idea of a national transportation system,” Williamson said. “We’re are spending billions and billions of dollars on highway systems and I have wondered about a national transportation system.”

Shelby said they tried to establish a similar system with Amtrak, but few people took advantage of the opportunity to travel.

“The only route that makes much money is Washington to Boston,” Shelby said. “People talk about riding the train, but they don’t do it.”

In order to get a system in place, Shelby said, it takes support. He said no one has shown this support yet.

“You have got to have the commitment of the people to push it through Congress, and I haven’t seen the commitment yet,” Shelby said. “If there were ever a commitment by people for a national transportation system, we could have it. But, I haven’t seen that commitment yet.”

Shelby agreed a federal system of transportation could save lots of money and help the economy, but he questioned whether people would continue to use the system if it drove gas prices down.

Despite economic issues on a national level, Shelby said Alabama’s outlook is bright.

“Our economy in Alabama is better than most parts of the nation,” Shelby said. “The unemployment rate for this state at the end of November was 3.6 percent and that is incredible. That includes the Black Belt, which has traditionally had the highest unemployment.”

Alabama’s 3.6 percent unemployment was below the national average of 4.1 he said. He said the state is in a great position to move forward, but will have to compete with China and India and continue to make strides in education.

Competition with the Chinese economy and other foreign markets is getting tougher, Shelby said, especially in manufacturing. Shelby said opening the borders to trade has already had a negative impact on the state of Alabama.

“If we lose our manufacturing base and let it go we are going to lose our middle class,” Shelby said. “I voted against the North American Free Trade Agreement because I said the first victims of this would be the textile industry. We have lost 100,00 jobs just in Alabama to Mexico.”

Shelby said areas such as the Black Belt, where production is a key to the local economy, were the ones who could suffer from increased trade with foreign markets.