A proposal for Good Growth in Tuscaloosa.

Living in Cherokee Hills means you don’t drive on Loop Road immediately after it rains- the water pours along the street as if it were a creek. It’s no secret that Loop Road has long posed problems in dealing with stormwater management and flooding.

This year, the city of Tuscaloosa secured a grant from the Alabama Transportation Rehabilitation and Improvement Program (ATRIP) to perform “critical improvements” between Fairmont Drive and Woodland Hills, including realignment of the two-lane road, adding sidewalks and curb and gutter improvements, and putting a better storm-water collection system into place. A vehicular roundabout will replace the existing stop sign-controlled intersection of Cherokee Hills Road and Loop Road.

While these changes will make traffic on Loop Road safer, they point to the need for greater citizen participation in the local transportation and infrastructure planning process. The ATRIP grant will fund 50 percent of the $2.1 million total cost with the remaining balance being matched by local funding. This means that the city or county will pay over $1 million dollars for this stormwater issue.

If the local authorities had conducted more research, the financial cost of the Loop Road project on our cash-strapped community could have been eased through multiple grants which fund stormwater projects. Being as time and money are limited resources, local leaders don’t have the time or the human resources to survey all the possible applications of green-friendly growth.

A standing Good Growth Committee for the purpose of advising the regional planning organization on related development grants, opportunities, and knowledge-based investments would open many doors for our regional planners. It would also provide them with free consultations and ideas from local residents on how to tap the economic potential of the beautiful natural landscapes and resources which surround Tuscaloosa. Rather than settle for covering half the cost of the Loop Road improvements, we could have secured a Low Impact Development grant from the EPA for a rain garden project to assist in managing the runoff problems.

On the forefront of low-impact development models, rain gardens reduce the amount of auto emissions and chemicals in our local waterways. Vegetation and soils within the rain garden naturally remove contaminants carried by stormwater runoff, while replacing stormwater into native soils helps mimic natural drainage processes and reduces the volume of stormwater runoff. Rain gardens keep our local water resources clean by reducing stream bank erosion and the negative effects of road runoff on aquatic communities. Most stormwater drains dump the runoff straight into local creeks, streams, ponds, and lakes, thus imposing greater long-term cleanup costs.

I want my neighborhood to look beautiful- to grow and develop in an attractive way that brings a good return on my investments. Rather than spend $1 million on an unattractive stormwater drainage system that includes hidden cleanup costs, I’d prefer a cutting-edge, forward-looking policy solution that saves taxpayer dollars while making my community more beautiful. The Good Growth Committee would offer our local leaders funding alternatives and ideas to attract businesses and nonprofits to the area.

It’s time to stop selling ourselves short. Businesses, nonprofits, and individuals should be attracted to the Tuscaloosa area because it is wonderful place to live– not because it is an easy place to pollute, destroy, or secure taxpayer-funded freebies. Many locals have amazing ideas and thoughts on how to help Tuscaloosa attract investors who make “good neighbors”. If you are one of these people, then consider adding your insights to the Good Growth Committee. Because bad growth is no growth at all.

Here’s my proposal for a Good Growth Committee to help our local leaders gain access to new ideas, trends, discoveries, and funding sources in infrastructure and planning. They have absolutely nothing to lose from it and everything to gain. If you’d like to be involved, send an email my way and let me know. The more, the merrier.

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