Glasgow Daily Times, Glasgow, KY

December 27, 2013

Alabama’s road of ruin: The mighty, as well as parkways, can crumble

By JAMES BROWN
Glasgow Daily Times

GLASGOW — In Alabama, west of Tuscaloosa, is a stretch of Interstate 20 that is some of the worst roadway to be found. It’s rutted, pitted and likely three stages from turning to gravel. (That is hyperbole, but the road is terrible.)

A stretch of this interstate nearer to Birmingham crosses over what was Richard M. Scrushy Parkway, which is ironic to me because Mr. Scrushy was released last year from federal prison after being convicted of bribery, conspiracy and mail fraud in 2007. His bribery was that of former Alabama Governor Don Siegelman. Scrushy and his high-level employees were convicted of or pleaded guilty to $2.7 billion in accounting fraud. Scrushy and the money he and the company he founded, HealthSouth, provided was so important to the city in central ‘Bama that anywhere one looked in the late 1990s, Scrushy’s name could be found.

In 2003, as accusations began to reveal the depth of potential fraud Scrushy and some of his employees had committed, those nameplates began to be removed.

“The latest joke going around Birmingham is that HealthSouth Corp. founder Richard Scrushy, who is facing fraud and insider trading charges, would plea bargain for jail time if officials agreed to name the prison after him.”

This was the lead to a story by Verna Gates in April 2003. (The story is an interesting read. Follow this link to be entertained. http://www.vernagates.com/vg-reuters-scrushy.htm)

The state was not one of those rushing to take Scrushy’s name off of things. The stretch of highway that was named for Scrushy seems to now be called Lloyd Noland Parkway, but that name change has happened in the last five years. And, according to a blog post at alabamacuriosities.blogspot.com, it’s appropriate the highway has reverted to its former name.

Lloyd Noland was a doctor who came to Jefferson County, Ala., in 1913, fresh from fighting tropical diseases in Panama during the construction of the canal. He had been brought to central Alabama by the Tennessee Coal, Iron and Land Co. to help rid the area of many of the same diseases he had fought in Central America. Eventually, he had a hospital built and it was the leading hospital in the Birmingham area. That hospital, in the 1990s, was bought by HealthSouth and the road was re-named for Scrushy. The name has been returned to Noland since Scrushy’s conviction, it would seem.

While the rutted interstate west of Tuscaloosa and the rutted fraud committed west of Birmingham aren’t related, they connect for me. Three or four times a year for 10 years, I have driven that stretch of interstate. The rutted road has continued to pit and split, turning into pebbles of asphalt. I am certain there is much traffic on that road between September and November each year as Alabama football fans travel to Tide games, but it amazes me how little work has been done to fix the roadway.

Then I consider where Scrushy was a little more than 10 years ago. Politicians flocked to his home for parties and fundraisers, with their hands out, metaphorically speaking, seeking campaign contributions and asking what he might like in return. “How about a road named in your honor?” Scrushy’s money, which was ill-gotten, was a shiny brass ring. As long as no one asked questions about from where it came, they could all grab at it with a clear conscience. Of course, that money also bought him influence.

History has provided Greek tragedies and cautionary tales about this very notion, but we humans never learn and are deemed to repeat our foibles.

Hope everyone had a merry Christmas and will have a happy New Year.

James Brown is editor for the Glasgow Daily Times. He can be contacted by e-mail at jbrown@glasgowdailytimes.com. Follow him on Twitter @editorjbrown.