Ala. to get toll road, nation's largest airport and inland port?

One artist rendering of the nation's largest airport, which Ameri-Metro says it will build in Alabama.
One artist rendering of the nation's largest airport, which Ameri-Metro says it will build in Alabama.

MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) - A Pennsylvania company has announced plans to build a toll road from the Alabama coast to the Tennessee line, but the announcement is a surprise to state officials who say this is the first they've heard of the plan.

The CEO of Ameri-Metro, Shah Mathias, says this would be the first project of its kind for his company and promises, "No tax dollars will be required..."

Mathias said the company is working on the exact route for the 300-mile project and said it would also include a rail line dubbed the "Grand Central Station of the South", the nation's largest inland port and the nation's largest freight and passenger airport, named, presumably, after a relative of Mathias - The Sarah Jewel Mathias International Airport.

The total budget, according to Ameri-Metro, is $7 billion.

Even more impressive would be the time in which it would take to get the toll road to full operation: 4 years. There's been no information released on land purchases, which can take years to obtain.

State Transportation Department spokesman Tony Harris said Ameri-Metro's announcement was the first that department officials had heard about the project.

"ALDOT officials were not made aware by Ameri-Metro or Alabama Toll Facilities Inc. that they were announcing their plans," Harriis said. "For this project to move forward, there is a significant level of coordination between the project planners and Local, State and Federal officials that hasn't happened yet."

Gov. Robert Bentley's communications director, Rebekah Mason, said the administration isn't familiar with the plans either.

A check of the company's SEC filings shows it apparently has $22 billion available, broken into $15 billion in rail bonds and another $7 billion in other bonds. The company's stock trades for $20 per share.

The pricey project is being touted as a major jobs-creator. Ameri-Metro claims it will create 120,000 private sector jobs.

Ameri-Metro issued a statement Tuesday saying the agreement was finalized with Alabama Toll Facilities Inc. and said the agreement comes in fulfillment of a 2007 Senate Resolution - SJR 56 -that authorized ATFI to "build, own, operate, and finance by issuing revenue bonds" for the project.

The company says its start date for the project is Fall 2012. A four-lane limited access toll road would stretch from Orange Beach, Alabama to Loretto, Tennessee.

A different company announced a similar route for a toll road in 2000, but it never materialized.

Copyright 2011 WSFA 12 News. WAFF-TV and The Associated Press contributed to this report.