Some findings of the study on the proposed $4.7 billion beltline conducted by the Ochs Center for Metropolitan Studies. The report was commissioned by the Southern Environmental Law Center on behalf of Black Warrior Riverkeeper.
The center found that the road construction project would create about 2,800 jobs per year over a 17-year construction phase, not the 70,000 claimed by proponents. The report also notes that most of the jobs would pay less than $35,000, and that there is no guarantee the jobs would go to Alabama residents. Any permanent jobs would not fully materialize until the project is complete, which the Alabama Department of Transportation recently estimated would not be for at least 35 years.
Among other things, the Ochs Center report critiques a 2010 report by the Center for Business and Economic Research (CBER) of the University of Alabama and compared Northern Beltline with economic development patterns and activities in other cities in the region.
CBER relied on 10-year-old data from the Federal Highway Administration regarding the number of jobs that could be expected from federal highwayconstruction aid, which has since been recalculated. Hence, the more accurate number of annual construction jobs from the Northern Beltline over 17 years is 2,805, according to the Ochs Center.
Among the Ochs Center’s other findings:
• CBER’s 2010 study failed to apply “discounted” values to its results as is standard practice for economic analysis. According to the Ochs Center, if construction of the Northern Beltline took 17 years, the discounted cost to American taxpayers per 2012-equivalent job would be about $302,000. If it took 30 years, which is more in keeping with the latest estimate from ALDOT, the discounted cost per job would be closer to $456,000.
• Looking at the cost to Alabama taxpayers for the state’s $1 billion share of the highway, the discounted cost per job would run between $91,203 and $147,384. Notably, most of the jobs generated at these costs would pay less than $35,000 per year.
• The CBER study assumes that construction activity would not negatively affect any of the 7,500 existing firms located in the Northern Beltline corridor or their 45,000 employees. If any firms were disrupted, displaced or acquired for construction purposes, those job losses must be subtracted from the total number of jobs projected to be created by this project.
• The CBER study fails to account for other costs necessary to generate potential economic development once beltline construction is complete, in particular the cost to localities of providing sewer and other essential infrastructure. The Northern Beltline would run through largely rural areas where topography would make sewer service extremely difficult. In addition, investment in schools, crime prevention, and other services that are vital to attracting residents and businesses must also be accounted for in a proper cost/ benefit analysis.
• Beltlines do not automatically generate growth. The Ochs Center looked at southeastern cities and found no consistent relationship between the presence or absence of a beltline and the unemployment rate in a particular metropolitan area. Bessemer, for example, which is located near both I-459 and I-20/59, has not experienced appreciable population or business growth in the last decade despite this interstate access.