5/18/2010Toll Road Dominates Alabama GOP Race For Governor
Two leading candidates for Republican gubernatorial nomination fight over propriety of a toll road deal.
The race for the Republican nomination for Alabama governor grew heated last week as a leading candidate faced questions over his involvement in a toll road deal. Tim James, 48, is running for the nod as a leading businessman and the son of former Governor Fob James, Jr. His opponent, Bradley Byrne, 55, is a former state senator and chancellor of the Alabama College System. Byrne and James traded verbal blows over the Foley Beach Express, a 13.5-mile four-lane route from the city of Foley to Orange Beach meant to bypass the congested Highway 59 for those willing to pay a $3.50 toll.
"We built this project -- six miles of four-lane highway and a bridge -- at no cost to taxpayers," James boasts on his campaign website. "Then, we donated the expressway to Baldwin County. A multi-million-dollar gift to the taxpayers."
James and business partner John McInnis formed the Baldwin County Bridge Company group in 1996 to line up the $44 million in capital costs for the road -- $36 million of which came from toll bonds and $7.5 million came from Federal Highway Administration and city of Foley grants for the Foley Bypass. In 2005 James sold the bridge to Australia's Macquarie Bank for $70 million.
"This is the way businessmen -- entrepreneurs -- think," James said at a candidate forum in February. "This is the kind of innovation and out-of-the-box thinking we do in the private sector that we need to take into government."
Byrne charged that James used his insider status as the son of the governor to cash in and make himself a millionaire from the deal. A 1996 law signed by Governor Fob James and a state contract signed just twelve days before leaving office made the project possible. Byrne also charged that the James campaign was being funded with profits from the deal in the form of $2.5 million in loans and contributions from McInnis.
"The fair question all Alabamians should ask is: Was Tim James' financial success with the bridge project built on his business skills or on his political connections?" Byrne asked in a statement Friday.
James responded that since the taxpayer money used to fund the project was federal, his father's influence played no role.