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Former state transportation director dies

By Phillip Rawls
Associated Press Writer

MONTGOMERY — Former state Transportation Director Ray Bass, who filled a prominent role in Gov. George Wallace's administrations and oversaw some of the state's biggest highway projects, died Thursday. He was 73.

Bass died at Baptist Medical Center South from complications of internal bleeding, his son, Tom Bass of Guntersville, said.

Bass started working for the Transpor-tation Department on a survey crew in 1957 while attending Auburn University. He continued with the department after getting his engineering degree in 1959, including being appointed by Wallace to serve as transportation director from m 1971-1979 and 1983-1987. He served as the department's chief engineer from 1995 until he retired in 2005.

Work as director

During his tenure as director, the department developed the Mobile interstate tunnel, the Mobile Bay and Mobile Delta interstate crossings, I-459 bypass in Birmingham, the I-565 connector in Huntsville, the Warrior Bridge in Tuscaloosa, and the Tennessee River Bridge in Guntersville.

Don Vaughn, who succeeded Bass as chief engineer, said he was known throughout the transportation business nationally. ``He was an institution,'' Vaughn said.

State Sen. Bobby Denton, a former chairman of the Legislature's Joint Transportation Committee, said he had known Bass for more than 30 years and considered him a stabilizing force at the Transportation Department.

"He was dependable and he would always do what he said,'' Denton, D-Muscle Shoals, said.

Denton said Bass served as director under an extremely powerful governor who used the Transportation Department to influence the Legislature. "That was a completely different political era when the governor would use highway projects to get votes,'' he said.

"Every public road is a political road,'' Bass said in a 2005 interview.

Leaving a legacy

The current chairman of the Joint Transportation Committee, Rep. Frank McDaniel, D-Albertville, said one of Bass's legacies would be the system of highway rest areas across the state, often recognized as among the best in the country.

Bass once said that he personally selected the locations of many rest areas, often deciding the locations based on how far a person could drive before needing to stop to use a restroom. McDaniel said Bass also recognized that the rest areas would improve the state's image with tourists.

While Bass was director in 1985, transportation employee Johnny Reynolds sued the department over racial discrimination. The case, which brought major changes in the department's hiring practices, is finally being wrapped up at a cost of more than $200 million to the state.

Denton said Bass fought the lawsuit because he thought the department had been fair, but in hindsight, it would have been better to settle the suit faster.

Survivors, in addition to his son Tom Bass, include Bass' wife, Clara "Snookie'' Bass; two other children, Beth Pate of Montgomery and Joan Brunson of Athens, five grandchildren, and a brother, James Bass of Malvern.

Funeral arrangements were still being made Thursday.

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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