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House approves transportation panel

By Bob Johnson
Associated Press Writer

MONTGOMERY — The Alabama House voted Tuesday to set up a five-member commission that would oversee the Alabama Department of Transportation and appoint the agency's director.

The House voted 89-10 to create the commission. The sponsor, Rep. Cam Ward, R-Alabaster, said the commissioners would be appointed by the governor, but would serve staggered six-year terms so that all members would most likely not be appointed by the same governor.

In addition to appointing the DOT director, the commission would oversee the department's long range planning of when and where highways will be built or repaired. Ward said this would help remove politics from the agency's decision-making process.

"This would allow for our long term needs regardless of who is governor," Ward said.

Other legislators complained that in the past they have seen priority road projects moved to the back burner after a new governor was elected.

Gov. Bob Riley proposed establishing a DOT commission during his campaign for his first term as governor in 2002. The governor praised the House for passing the bill Tuesday.

"This is a reform that's been needed for a long time and I hope this year I will finally get the chance to sign it into law," Riley said.

Rep. Tommy Sherer, D-Jasper, said he has seen that happen with a long planned project in his district in Walker County.

"It seems for years if we voted right in the governor's race, we got a whole lot done. If we didn't vote right, we didn't get a whole lot done," Sherer said.

Several legislators complained that the bill would continue to give the governor control over DOT, because he would appoint the commission members.

"I have a problem with any one person from either party having the authority to appoint the board. It will just be the same kind of stuff you are trying to get rid of," said Rep. James Thomas, D-Selma.

Rep. Locy Baker, D-Abbeville, said he was concerned that all members of the commission would end up being from urban areas and that rural parts of the state would be left out.

"What's going to happen to the country people? We're going to be left out again," Baker said.

The bill now goes to the Senate for debate.

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 This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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