Richard Shelby at Chamber breakfast

JEREMY WISE / DOTHAN EAGLE

U.S. Sen. Richard Shelby (standing) addresses a crowd Monday as part of a breakfast the Dothan Chamber of Commerce organized.

As state legislators begin to debate a gas tax to improve Alabama’s infrastructure, U.S. Sen. Richard Shelby stressed the importance of federal infrastructure support Monday in Dothan.

Shelby, as the chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, maintains a seat on the transportation appropriations subcommittee. While infrastructure improvements are needed nationwide, Alabama needs a voice representing it when federal officials discuss road and bridge funding, he said.

“The infrastructure bill we keep talking about -- that would affect the Wiregrass. That would affect the whole state,” he said. “We definitely need to rebuild our roads and bridges in the country. It’s good for business.”

Shelby also noted the importance of making vast improvements to the Port of Mobile – mainly the dredging and widening of the canal entering the port. The port currently ranks No. 11 in the nation in tonnage processed and is the fastest-growing container port in America.

“It’s a straight shot from the Panama Canal to Mobile,” he said. “Are the ships going to go to New Orleans or Charleston? We’ve got a great opportunity for growth there.”

The project would cost about $500 million, and federal funds would pay for 75 percent of it, or about $375 million. Gov. Kay Ivey has suggested the state use some of the funds generated from a proposed new 10-cent gas tax to pay a bond to fund improvements at the Port of Mobile.

In introductory remarks, Katie Boyd Britt, president and CEO of the Business Council of Alabama and former Shelby chief of staff, said Port of Mobile improvements would have a “ripple effect” that would benefit the Wiregrass.

In a broad view of national politics, Shelby believes President Donald Trump will emerge “better than you expect” from trade talks with China. He added Fort Rucker continues to perform well in its mission of training military helicopter pilots and expressed a desire to see more branches consolidate their training at the Wiregrass military installation.

“It would save money and bolster Fort Rucker’s position,” Shelby said.

Follow Jeremy Wise on Twitter @DEgovbeat

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