UPDATE, 8:30 p.m., 9/11/2015: According to a press release received earlier this evening, the Birmingham City Council moved to rescind the moratorium on spending on capital projects during their next regularly scheduled meeting on Tuesday, September 15. This was after a 3 1/2 hour committee of the whole meeting, described in the release as being “open and often candid.”
The original post follows below:
Late Thursday afternoon the Birmingham City Council officially announced a special called meeting of its Committee of the Whole for Friday at 2 p.m. at City Hall. The meeting takes place just three days after the city’s legislative body voted to put in place a 30-day moratorium on funding for all capital projects underway in the city (as reported by AL.com), with a few notable exceptions — including renovations at Legion Field and the new intermodal transit facility currently under construction. A review of the committee meeting’s preliminary agenda for the meeting shows the only item under New Business as a “capital projects update.”
A press release sent out this afternoon in advance of the presentation to the council by the mayor’s office included the following quote from council president Johnathan Austin:
“As City Councilors we must be continually updated on all projects that utilize public funds to ensure that we are making the best decisions for our constituents. While we are excited about new growth opportunities that certain capital projects may present it is prudent that we are cautious about approving funding for items that we have minimal knowledge about.”
A report filed by WBRC’s Vanessa Araiza on Wednesday pointed to cost overruns related to Regions Field as a major reason for the delay. The council voted on Tuesday to approve paying the remaining expenses to Robins & Morton and A.G. Gaston Construction over a seven-year period. Members of the City Council also alluded to receiving some monthly reports covering progress while not receiving others, despite claims from the mayor’s office to the contrary. The reports are not accessible currently via the city’s official website, though the monthly report for the city’s street and storm sewer improvements program for the period ending December 31, 2014 is available online in part due to a report filed for ABC 33/40 in late January.
The current fiscal year’s capital budget is available on the city’s website via the budget office.
The preliminary agenda for the January 20 Birmingham City Council meeting included an item that has the potential to impact the city’s Southside. A portion of the nine mile stretch of road officially known as State Route 149 was the central focus of Item 7, submitted for and approved as part of the consent agenda on Tuesday morning. Specifically, it involved the portion of the nine-mile stretch of road once known as Alt. U.S. 31 — one that made getting around Red Mountain a little easier before the completion of the Red Mountain Expressway. The item called for approving an “Agreement, Resolution and Quit Claim Deed with the State of Alabama, acting by and through the Alabama Department of Transportation for the Transfer of Finley Boulevard from US-78 to US-31 to the State of Alabama and the Transfer of SR-149 within the City limits of Birmingham to the City.” This is a big deal on both ends of the deal.
Finley Boulevard is a major thoroughfare for the city, especially with regards to its ability to serve as a hub for the transportation of goods. A portion of the road runs parallel to Finley Avenue, home to several popular destinations in the city including Niki’s West and the Birmingham Farmers Market. It will eventually serve as the terminus to a project preparing to get underway to its east, the Maxine Herring Parker Bridge — the pedestrian/vehicular bridge project the former council president was working on before she passed away in November 2013. If you’re wondering about the status of that project — one focused on making accessing Collegeville safer and easier — the request for proposals for construction are due into ALDOT by 10 a.m., January 30.
Returning the focus to State Route 149, it provides the opportunity for the city to make additional improvements and changes to the portion of the road called University Boulevard — the portion that runs through the middle of the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s campus on the Southside. UAB has recently constructed monument signs along University Boulevard at Richard Arrington, Jr. Blvd. (one, eastbound side) and at 13th Street (two), essentially announcing the eastern and western boundaries for the urban campus.
The other major story from yesterday’s meeting involved the approval of a zoning variance for the Salvation Army, allowing it to proceed with plans to convert Lewis Elementary School and some of the surrounding area into apartments, a homeless prevention center, and a church (Item 1). This approval comes a little more than four years after a similar proposal to be placed along 12th Avenue North in Norwood was voted down by the neighborhood, 52-0. As Alabama’s 13 reported yesterday, Norwood Elementary is currently being renovated with plans to reopen, allowing students from Lewis to move there.
The Birmingham City Council’s recap is available via PDF on their website.
Visitors to the city of Birmingham’s website (birminghamal.gov) since close of business last night have been pleasantly surprised. The newest iteration of the city’s digital facing first impression has launched quietly, though it is our understanding a more formal announcement should be forthcoming. It replaces the one used (with only minor tweaks) since January 2008. This latest version was created by locally based web design firm Kinetic Communications. They have also been working on a new Birmingham City Council website that launched last month, replacing one in use since May 2012. The sites are so similar visually most visitors will not notice they are not one in the same when navigating.
This redesign is the latest effort to tackle an issue faced by many cities — how to build a useful website for its citizens and business owners. A look back at earlier iterations should give a pretty good idea of just how far the city’s come from 2001.
UPDATE: 9/23/2014, 4:15 p.m. – The original headline for this piece, and information contained within, was based information provided during and after the presentation suggesting it would take place on September 23. While preparing to re-share the piece this afternoon, we learned that it will instead be held on a new, yet to be confirmed date in the near future. It will be shared here once it is finalized.
Birmingham area residents living along U.S. Highway 280 may soon have another option to consider during their morning and evening commutes. Members of the Birmingham City Council’s Transportation and Communication committee
heard from Henry Ikwut-Ukwa, manager of planning and development for the BJCTA
, on Wednesday afternoon about proposed commuter route along the perpetually congested thoroughfare.
The proposed route, which would be known as Route 201, would run four times a day initially (two trips inbound at 5:45 a.m. and 6:30 a.m. and two trips outbound at 4:30 p.m. and 5:30 p.m.). The buses would operate between the Walmart location along Highway 280 near Lake Purdy and State Highway 119 and the BJCTA’s Central Station (soon to be replaced by the intermodal facility now under construction), stopping at The Summit, St. Vincent’s Hospital UAB, the central business district, and the Social Security Building (located at the corner of 14th Street North and Abraham Woods, Jr. Blvd). It was stressed that the route is only proposed at this point and is subject to changes.
It is one of three routes currently under consideration for pilot commuter service in the area. One of the other proposed routes would operate during peak morning and afternoon travel periods between downtown Bessemer and the Galleria in Hoover. A third route would serve as the long-talked about shuttle service between downtown Birmingham and Birmingham-Shuttlesworth International Airport.
The seven new buses being used for the pilot effort were purchased using grant monies obtained with local matching funds provided by the city of Hoover originally intended to provide assistance for a city circulator. It was later changed to allow for the purchase. (It is one of several orders for new buses received in recent years by the BJCTA.) A restriction on the how the grant could be used prevents them from being added to the existing fixed routes. Ikwut-Ukwa placed the estimated cost to operate the service at $101,400 and that it could be accommodated in the current operations budget. He told the committee the authority was anticipating an estimated early usage of 25-35 riders; each bus can hold 26 people and are ADA accessible. He also informed them the authority’s board was looking at the system’s fare structure and that the cost for riding on this particular route had not been determined as of yet.
There will be a public notification meeting held
on Tuesday, September 23, in the Arrington Auditorium on the fourth floor of the Birmingham Public Library’s central branch from 5:30 – 7:30 p.m. in the near future. It’s hoped those in attendance will help them to refine and develop the pilot route and schedule.
There’s been a great deal of conversation online about the pending arrival of Uber in Birmingham, AL since a post first published on this site back on June 19 suggested they were already laying the necessary groundwork. While the City of Birmingham is saying it’s prepared to welcome one of the world’s largest ride sharing apps to The Magic City, they’ve also said they do want to make sure it operates within the existing law. But what’s the law? First, a video posted to the City Council’s YouTube account on Tuesday afternoon:
Uber had already turned to social media to push back against proposed changes to the taxi ordinance, suggesting via email that it would be “anti-consumer” and creating a hashtag, #BirminghamNeedsUber, to garner and organize support for the service. Throughout the entire period though, there has been little discussion about the actual ordinance changes.
This link will take you to a copy of the working document published as a PDF; the changes are underlined with strikethroughs visible where language has been removed or modified; a “clean” copy has also been made available for you to review. A copy of the revisions made to the transportation ordinance earlier this year has also been uploaded to provide a point of reference and so you can actually see where changes have been made. An initial review of the documents prior to publishing this afternoon suggest they support statements made by councilors and city officials that the majority of the changes made were simply to define the service for purposes of the ordinance.
The changes appear to be similar to changes passed earlier this week in Columbus, OH and ones being considered in New Orleans, LA (though Uber’s biggest issue there seems to involve fare minimums). This morning it was announced a meeting to discuss the proposed changes in the Crescent City originally scheduled to take place July 22 has been rescheduled for next Tuesday, the same day Birmingham’s City Council is scheduled to take the item back up.
Council members have taken to social media in recent days to counter similar efforts by Uber in advance of the vote (as documented on AL.com), including the video shared earlier in this piece (as part of a longer nearly 2 minute piece) and the following tweet sent via Council president Johnathan Austin’s Twitter account earlier today:
Fifteen area organizations stood before the Birmingham City Council’s economic development committee during a public hearing Thursday evening, May 30, to ask for restored or additional funding in the 2013-2014 fiscal year budget. The budget message was presented to the council by Mayor Bell on May 14. The council received a detailed briefing on the proposed operating and capital budgets on May 21.
The accompanying images shows Robbie Fearn, executive director of Ruffner Mountain Nature Preserve, as he presented before the committee while supporters hold signs behind him. As reported recently in Weld for Birmingham, the 36 year-old cultural resource has not been included in the proposed budget for the second year in a row. The Alabama Symphony Orchestra, Birmingham Public Library, Citizen Action Patrol (CAP), Children’s Village, Childcare Resources, Clastran, Crossroads to Intervention, the Exchange Club of Birmingham Family Skills Center, Friends of Rickwood Field, Meals on Wheels, the Metro Birmingham Chapter of the NAACP, Norwood Resource Center, and the YWCA also received three minutes to speak before the committee, chaired by council president pro tempore Steven Hoyt. They then answered questions posed to them by the council.
The hearing started at 4 p.m. and lasted a little over an hour. Those unable to attend but interested in what was said and the questions posed to the organizations are able to relive the excitement via an audio archive posted to the city’s website last night. At the very least, you’ll learn more about the organizations listed above while also getting a chance to hear the types of questions being asked by the councilors.
It may also help if you had some time to look over the budget (PDF). It’s a pretty large document (1.48 MB, 164 pages), but at least you’ll know where everyone’s starting from as the budget process continues.
This morning’s Birmingham City Council meeting should be an interesting one to watch.
The agenda itself is not that exciting (526 properties on the list for weed removal notwithstanding). Items 4-7 are normally boilerplate items; approval of contracts with print publications to help publicize notices, ordinances and resolutions. This year the contracts with The Birmingham News and The Huntsville Times are on consent; the contracts with the Alabama Messenger and The Birmingham Times are not.
Items 32-40 are providing for payouts equaling $79,195 in disaster relief/critical repair grants.
The more interesting conversation though should be during the mayor’s report. This morning’s Birmingham News front page includes a piece about the continuing issues surrounding communication between the mayor and council. This time it’s focused on issues related to the PACE board created to downtown ballpark.
Last week it was announced that construction on the $60 million new home of the Birmingham Barons closer to being completed in time for the first pitch of the 2013 season. Joseph Bryant’s piece points out that the loans were approved in meetings that took place prior to the appointment of two board members by the City Council – after partial demolition was approved last month.
The meeting is available via live stream on the city’s website – as always.