A public hearing was finally held after years without one on the controversial plan to build a massive toll bridge across the Mobile River.
A number of critics raised concerns about the plan that would contract with a private company to build the I-10 bridge connecting Mobile and Baldwin Counties. The company would then collect tolls, from electronic toll towers rather than traditional toll booths, for reportedly as many as the next fifty years in order to recover their investment into this state.
The state legislature just passed the largest gas tax increase in the history of the state passing the legislature just months ago. They also passed legislation enabling ALDOT to make toll agreements and for citizens who refuse to pay their toll bills to lose their vehicle registration privileges.
The public was told that building the bridge without toll is not an option.
“If we don’t toll the project there is no project,” the Alabama Department of Transportation’s Mobile River Bridge and Bayway project public information officer said.
The bridge will be 215 feet tall and the largest cable stay bridge that has ever built in North America. If built, it will dominate the Mobile skyline well into the end of this century.
Supporters say that the $billion project is necessary to deal with traffic congestion on I-10.
Critics question the mad rush to begin the project, why ALDOT gave up on obtaining federal funding for this project after the denial of a massive grant application last summer, and the wisdom of building such a tall structure in an area that is known for devastating hurricanes.
State Auditor Jim Zeigler (R) has been an outspoken opponent of the project and warns that if this passes new corporate controlled toll bridges and roads will spread to other parts of the state.
“Tolls are the new tax of the future,” Zeigler said Wednesday at a major speech to the Guntersville Civitans.
Zeigler says the enabling bill applies to the entire state, and that the Mobile Bay toll is only the first of many across the state.
Critics of the project point out that the census tract that the toll bridge is in has been designated a federal opportunity zone by Alabama Governor Kay Ivey (R). If the toll bridge were approved as a federal opportunity zone project then the companies that build the toll bridge will get tens of millions in potential taxes deferred or declared taxfree. Opportunity zones are designed, in theory, to address pockets of chronic generational poverty; but much of the opportunity zones designated by Kay Ivey appear to be along interstate corridors.
Supporters of the project say that it is necessary to deal with congestion problems on I-10.
Critics of the toll bridge point out that the City of Mobile is in population decline and has been in decline for decades. Mobile was once the second largest city in Alabama; but has fallen to fourth.
According to the latest Census estimate the population of Mobile is only 189,572. That is down from the 2017 number, down from 2010, and down from the City’s peak in 1970 of 202,279.
Supporters point to the booming population in Baldwin County which is growing at over two percent a year. The population estimate of Baldwin County is 218,022. Up from 183,110 in 2010 and up from 59,382 in 1970.
The beaches of Baldwin County are also Alabama’s largest tourist attraction drawing visitors from all over Alabama, the Southeast, and beyond.
Supporters of the giant toll bridge also say that the project is necessary due to the business coming through the Port of Mobile. The state and federal governments are planning to deepen and widen the shipping channel to the Port in a bid to increase traffic through the Port. Most of those ships being unloaded in the Port will mean more transfer trucks on I-10 and I-65.
(Original reporting by Fox 10 TV News’s Toi Thornton contributed to this report.)