Birmingham News Op-Ed

Coalition for Regional Transportation Op-Ed Column – The Birmingham News

Your readers were recently treated to a classic propaganda piece trashing the Northern Beltline funded by the Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC), an activist group of lawyers well known in our area for cloaking their anti-growth agenda beneath a veneer of environmentalism.

Now that we have finally reached the point in the process at which construction of the first segment of the much-needed Beltline (future I-422) is about to start, the SELC and its allies are desperate to do anything they can to slow down or even stop this vitally important project. They know that losing this battle is tantamount to losing the war. Their solution: a “study” from an out-of-state firm—the Ochs Center—notorious for mischaracterizing data to support the claims of anti-growth clients like SELC.

The Internet is replete with instances in which the Ochs Center has used speculative and highly flawed analysis in an attempt to discredit development projects and discourage economic growth and development.

In case after case, the Chattanooga think-tank has put forward absurdly low estimates of the number of jobs to be created by such projects. Just type “Ochs study flawed” in any Google search box for a number of ready examples in which flawed methodology is used to support fundamentally biased views about a range of major economic development projects.

In their latest study-for-hire, Ochs had the gall to attack the Center for Business and Economic Research (CBER) at the University of Alabama, an institution long respected for its scholarly and objective approach to the studies it conducts regarding the benefits a given economic development project can realistically be expected to produce.

Most glaringly, the left-leaning Ochs Center asserts that “Building the Northern Beltline means less money available for other needed transportation projects in Birmingham and throughout Alabama.” This argument is offered up as one of the major “findings” of the study and it is totally wrong.

The fact is the Northern Beltline will largely be paid for by federal funds allocated specifically for this purpose by the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) — tax dollars Alabamians have been sending to Washington for years while watching the bulk of those dollars go to other Appalachian states.

Those allocated funds can only be used on ARC designated roads, and the only such designated road remaining to be built in Alabama is the Northern Beltline.  We must, therefore, use those funds for that purpose or lose them once again to other states. This simple fact remains unchanged no matter how many times the Ochs “study” tries to assert otherwise.

The Ochs Beltline “study” is typical of their pattern. In Georgia, for instance, Ochs issued a similar “study” saying a needed coal-fired energy plant wasn’t necessary. The brilliant assumption on which this finding was based? That Georgia wouldn’t experience any population growth for the next 14 years!

But, even if many of the erroneous assumptions in the Ochs “study” are accepted as correct the enormous benefits of building the Northern Beltline still shine through.

For example, Ochs insists that CBER got it all wrong when it tallied the number of jobs to be created as a result of the project at roughly 70,000. Ochs insists the Beltline will “only” result in about 50,000 jobs! Even if the Ochs “study” is assumed correct, the Beltline would still rank as the greatest economic development project in the history of the State, not to mention one of the most important upgrades to our highway network since we abandoned the horse and buggy.

When one considers that the federal government already has the funds ready and waiting to cover the vast majority of the costs associated with creating those jobs and building this important highway, it becomes even more obvious that we will enjoy an immense return on investment for the relatively modest funding to be supplied by the state.  Moreover, the state’s costs on this project will be significantly reduced by the recently passed congressional transportation bill that will provide 100% federal funding for ARC highway projects for the next ten years.

Eventually, the convoluted arguments laid one atop another in the Ochs “study” collapse under the weight of their own imponderable logic. If building the Beltline is such a terrible mistake, then taking that flawed reasoning to its logical conclusion, we never should have built I-459, or I-20, I-59 or I-65. Think of what the Birmingham region would be like today without those vital transportation arteries.

Make no mistake, this is a battle between those who want economic growth and those who don’t.  It is time to reject those who would hold our area back.  The time has come to build the Northern Beltline and allow the Birmingham Region the opportunity for the economic prosperity it deserves.