From whom the road tolls
By By Bob Martin, The Alabama Scene
Talk has emerged in Montgomery about construction of a toll road from the Capital City to Panama City, Fla. Among those pushing the project is Birmingham lawyer Luther Strange.
Strange, who was defeated by Democrat Jim Folsom, Jr. in the 2006 race for lieutenant governor, represents Focus 2000 of the Wiregrass, an organization he says is made up of potential investors and local officials and businessmen in Southeast Alabama.
What has spurred talk of the project in recent weeks is the speculation that Dothan was bumped from consideration for a new Volkswagen plant because of a deficiency in highway transportation and because automakers want locations on highly visible sites along major highways.
No federal or state funding is available for the project but Strange says he believes there is a way to construct the highway by using public and private resources.
I have never been a fan of private toll roads and bridges and the track record of public benefit for such operations is not great. Two Alabama examples are the toll bridge at Orange Beach which made millions for the relatives of former Gov. Fob James when they sold the bridge to the City of Orange Beach; and a toll bridge near Montgomery which has recently been boycotted by residents because of what they believe was an unnecessary increase in the toll fee.
The Montgomery/Panama City toll road proposal, however, has a different twist. It would be constructed and operated by a nonprofit corporation and after tolls had repaid the costs, the road would revert to public ownership. I suspect, however, that those private entities involved would reap significant profits. But despite that, I believe it is an idea worth exploring.
Others, however, are not so sure. State Rep. Frank McDaniel of Albertville, chair of the legislature’s Joint Transportation Committee said “there are lots of iffy things about toll roads” and added: “It sounds like they are very early in their dream world.”
Said State Sen. Larry Means of Gadsden: “Before we have toll roads we need to do something about our existing roads. We have less money to spend on roads, and we have got to find some kind of source of money for roads.” Means is vice chair of the Joint Transportation Committee.
Whatever its merits, this toll road appears to be a distant dream.
State Bar honors Heflin, others
Former U. S. Senator and State Chief Justice Howell Heflin, along with three other distinguished Alabamians were inducted into the Alabama Lawyers Hall of Fame last week. Heflin served one six-year term as chief justice from 1971-77 and was instrumental in the passage of major constitutional reforms to modernize the state’s judicial system.
He then served 18 years in the U. S. Senate where he was chairman of the Senate Ethics Committee during the investigation of the Keating Five, which included a probe into Sen. John McCain’s dealing in the Savings and Loan scandal. Heflin, who died in 2005, was also president of the State Bar in 1965-66.
Heflin was honored as a “decorated soldier (the recipient of the Silver Star and two purple hearts in the Pacific Theatre during World War II), a successful lawyer and judicial reformer,” according to a spokesman for the State Bar.
Others honored were:
John Archibald Campbell (1811-1889) who was associate justice of the U.S Supreme Court from1853 to1861. He also served in the state legislature, 1836-1837 and 1842-1843, and was known as a constitutional scholar during his legal career.
Thomas Goode Jones (1844-1914) who is a former Alabama governor (1890-1894) and U.S. District Court judge (1901-1914). Jones carried the flag of truce at Appomattox, the official end of the Civil War, before embarking on a career in state government. Jones Law School in Montgomery bears his name.
Patrick W. Richardson (1925-2004), who was president of the state bar, 1969-1970, and played a key role in establishing the University of Alabama at Huntsville. The fourth-generation lawyer also was president of the Huntsville-Madison County Bar Association, 1965-1966.
A personal note: I had the opportunity to work for Chief Justice Heflin and consider him one of the finest public servants our state has ever had. He was also one of Ronald Reagan’s favorite senators and spent many evenings with the former president swapping “tall tales,” perhaps even some about his favorite fictional character, “No-Tie Hawkins.”