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Governor

Ainsworth opposes Mobile River toll bridge plan

Brandon Moseley

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Alabama Lt. Gov. Will Ainsworth became the latest Alabama elected official to announce his opposition to a controversial new Alabama Department of Transportation plan to build a bridge over the Mobile River and pay for it by tolling motorists who use I-10 for the next 55 years.

“A state that built the rockets that sent men to the moon should be able to find a way to build a bridge without extorting the citizens it seeks to serve,” Ainsworth said in a videotaped statement he posted to social media.

Ainsworth has a seat on the nine-member Alabama Toll Road and Bridge Authority that has to approve the project. He said that if the plan comes before the board “I will proudly be casting a no vote and standing with the hardworking families of Baldwin and Mobile Counties.”

Toll bridge opponents have been writing and emailing the nine members of the toll authority, including Ainsworth urging them to be no votes on the plan.

Ainsworth says that the plan “quite frankly violates every conservative belief and principle that I hold.”

The lieutenant governor said that he can not support a plan that makes a working family in Baldwin and Mobile Counties spend $2,200 a year that could be used on food or other necessities of life just to get back and forth to work.

Ainsworth said that tolling the existing Wallace Tunnel that has already been fully paid for makes an already outrageous plan completely unacceptable.

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Ainsworth joins other state constitutional officers, Alabama Secretary of State John H. Merrill and State Auditor Jim Zeigler, in opposing the ALDOT proposal to turn I-10 into a toll road to improve travel speed and reduce traffic congestion.

ALDOT’s plan is to form a public private partnership (P3) with a multi-national conglomerate in order to build an I-10 bridge over the Mobile River. The bridge will have 210 feet of vertical clearance so all manner of oceangoing traffic, including the new bigger cruise ships, can easily pass underneath en route upriver to the Alabama State Docks. The bridge and replacement of the existing Bayway is projected to cost a staggering $2.1 billion. ALDOT claims the Bayway needs to be replaced with a new taller eight-lane roadway.

The private corporate partners would get their money back, as well as profits, by tolling both the bridge and the existing Wallace tunnels for the next 55 years to pay for the project. Frequent travelers between Mobile and Baldwin counties would be able to purchase unlimited toll bridge access for just $90 a month. An annual membership would cost $1,080 per car. For a family with two cars, unlimited use of the toll bridge would cost $2,160 a year. Other travelers on I-10 would receive a bill in the mail for $6 for every time they crossed the bridge of used the tunnel and Bayway. There will be higher tolls for large trucks and for vehicles towing a trailer, and there likely will be an administrative fee applied. Motorists who do not pay their toll bills would lose ability to purchase vehicle tag renewals.

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The bridge is in a federal Opportunity Zone, so the international investors bidding on the plan could potentially receive $hundreds of millions of tax breaks from federal, state, and local taxes.

While I-10 users would be tolled, under the ALDOT plan, the Mobile Causeway, the Cochran-Africatown bridge and the Bankhead Tunnel would continue to allow free travel in and out of Mobile for motorists who are unable or unwilling to pay the expensive tolls.

Recent polling of Mobile and Baldwin Counties show that 77 percent of the people in the area also opposing building the bridge, if it is going to be tolled.

Zeigler has been leading the grassroots opposition movement to the project. 51,908 people have joined his Facebook group opposing the toll bridge plan.

Congressman Bradley Byrne (R-Montrose) has asked Governor Kay Ivey to pause the plan so that the state can explore other options. U.S. Senator Doug Jones (D) similarly has announced his opposition to ALDOT’s plan.

Many toll bridge opponents have said that until the state can afford to pay for the bridge no bridge should be built. Ivey has said that the cost of not building the bridge and accepting traffic congestion in and out of Mobile going forward is unacceptable.

“I am sensitive to those legitimate concerns of what a toll would do to working families, lower and middle-class citizens, small businesses, students and the elderly,” Ivey recently wrote. “However, there are also countless individuals who would like the option of choosing a safer, less congested route across the Mobile River and Bay – even if it means that route will come with a toll. Keep in mind, there will always be ‘toll-free’ options for anyone who wants or needs to cross Mobile Bay for free. To those who say the bridge can be built without a toll, I simply ask you to show us how.”

The Mayors of both Spanish Fort and Fairhope are opposing the plan to toll the bridge.

There is a meeting of the Mobile Metropolitan Planning Organization on Wednesday. The Mobile MPO is scheduled to vote on its transportation improvements priority (TIP) list for 2020 to 2023. Delisting the bridge as a local transportation improvement priority would effectively kill the bridge because federal law prevents the federal government from providing any funding to projects not requested by local regional planners. Toll bridge opponents are calling on members of the Mobile MPO to vote to reject the toll bridge. Bridge opponents are similarly asking the same thing of the Eastern Shore Metropolitan Planning Organization, where the Baldwin County Mayors opposed to the project have seats on the board. That group meets on August 28 and could consider the measure then.

There will be a public meeting of the nine-member Toll Bridge and Road Authority on October 7 to discuss the project and whether or not to move forward on awarding the P3 contract.

Ainsworth’s defection means that there is at least one no vote. Pressure is being put on the other members of the Toll Authority, including Senate Pro Tem Del Marsh (R-Anniston) and State Representative Steve Clouse (R-Ozark), to also vote no. ALDOT director John Cooper has been an outspoken proponent of the toll bridge plan so is almost certainly a yes vote if this project gets that far.

(Original reporting by the Alabama Media Group contributed to the report.)

Brandon Moseley is a senior reporter with eight and a half years at Alabama Political Reporter. You can email him at [email protected] or follow him on Facebook. Brandon is a native of Moody, Alabama, a graduate of Auburn University, and a seventh generation Alabamian.

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Governor

Democratic women condemn comments on Gov. Kay Ivey’s appearance

“These comments are disrespectful, inappropriate in every way, and represent a broader culture of casual sexism,” read a joint statement from four Democratic women.

Josh Moon

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Gov. Kay Ivey held an Coronavirus update Press conference Wednesday, July 29, 2020 in Montgomery, Ala. (Governor's Office/Hal Yeager)

A group of Democratic women on Wednesday issued a statement condemning comments made by a state school board member who was critical of Gov. Kay Ivey’s weight. 

Wayne Reynolds, a Republican who represents portions of northwest Alabama on the board, wrote during a live stream event that Ivey, who is also a Republican, “is gaining weight.” 

Afterward, in an interview with AL.com, Reynolds doubled — and then tripled — down on his comments as he critiqued Ivey’s choice of clothing. 

“She looked heavy in that white suit,” Reynolds said of Ivey, who held a press conference on Wednesday to update the state’s “safer-at-home” order. “I don’t know what she weighs. I just made an observation.”

Later in the interview, Reynolds said the pantsuit Ivey wore was unflattering and that he had seen her wear other suits “that were more slimming on her.”

The backlash to Reynold’s comments was swift and bipartisan with women around the state rightfully taking issue. 

“These comments are disrespectful, inappropriate in every way, and represent a broader culture of casual sexism,” read a joint statement from four Democratic women. “Women all over Alabama know what it is like to be subjected to unfair criticism on the basis of their appearance or weight. 

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“We need to cultivate an environment where individuals are judged on the basis of their skill and proficiency. Alabama elected officials should be discussing policy, not the physical appearance of policymakers. Anything less is a disservice to Alabamians. We are disturbed by Mr. Reynold’s remarks, and we hope other elected officials and candidates will likewise condemn his comments. Mr. Reynolds was wrong and we deserve better.”


The statement was signed by Amy Wasyluka, president of Alabama Democratic Women, Phyliss Harvey Hall, a District 2 congressional candidate, Dr. Adia Winfrey, a District 3 congressional candidate and Laura Casey, a candidate for president of the Alabama Public Service Commission.

 

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Governor

Nine people protesting for Medicaid expansion arrested outside Alabama Capitol

Among those arrested was former State Sen. Hank Sanders.

Eddie Burkhalter

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Nine people were arrested during a protest in front of the Alabama Capitol on Tuesday. (Hank Sanders/Facebook)

Nine people were arrested during a protest in front of the Alabama Capitol on Tuesday, which for some was the second time they’d been arrested this month while trying to bring attention to expanding Medicaid in the state and to the need for racial reconciliation.

As members of Alabama Black Lives Matter and Alabama SaveOurSelves held a demonstration Tuesday, which was live-streamed on former State Sen. Hank Sanders’ Facebook page, some began attempting to spray paint the words “Good Trouble,” a reference to the late Georgia Rep. John Lewis and his civil rights work, and “Expand Medicaid” on the street in front of the Capitol and were arrested.

Still, others began to try and spray paint onto the street and were also arrested, as can be seen in the video.

Among those arrested was Sanders, who could be seen in the video being handcuffed and loaded into a Montgomery Police Department vehicle, and his wife, 75-year-old Faya Rose Toure, an attorney, civil rights activist and former municipal judge.

The groups had planned Tuesday’s demonstration to bring attention to their push to expand Medicaid and to the arrest of five members after a demonstration there on July 16, in which members tried to use yellow spray paint to paint the words “Black Lives Matter” and “Expand Medicaid” on the street. The five turned themselves into police on July 20.

Montgomery Police Department public information officer Capt. Saba Coleman in a press release Tuesday evening said that those detained had not yet been charged. Montgomery Police declined to identify those persons who were detained.

“On Tuesday, July 28, 2020, at about 12 noon, MPD responded to the area of the Capitol in reference to protesters painting the street in front of the Capitol steps. Upon arrival, MPD witnessed the protesters painting the street. At which time, MPD notified the City of Montgomery’s Traffic Engineering Department regarding the painting of the street,” Coleman said in the statement. “The paint was deemed noncompliant because organizers failed to request and obtain proper permitting and prior approval, which resulted in a crew being dispatched to the area. Protesters involved in the offense were subsequently detained; however, they were released with charges pending. There’s no additional information available for release.”

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Faya Toure, Sanders’ wife, attorney, civil rights activist and former municipal judge, speaking to APR on Tuesday morning before the demonstration said she planned to once again work to bring attention to the need to expand Medicaid in Alabama in order to save thousands of lives a year and that she’s also addressed the arrests earlier in the month, of which she was one.

Sanders told APR on Monday that he was “mad as hell” over the arrests which included strip searches for the women but not for the men.

In an open letter to Montgomery Mayor Steven Reed, Toure wrote of her experience being strip-searched at the police station.

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“Some say I should have resisted, but I did not,” Toure starts the letter of, then describes the act of having to strip for officers. “Within minutes the ordeal that changed my soul was over.”

In a statement, ACLU of Alabama noted that the latest arrests came “just days after a memorial service honoring Representative John Lewis was held on the same steps.”

“Once again, we see Alabama police officers using the power of the government to unnecessarily seize and detain people who are exercising their constitutionally protected First Amendment right to assemble and protest,” said Randall Marshall, executive director of ACLU of Alabama in a statement. “While the Constitution does not explicitly protect people from legal repercussions when protesting crosses into civil disobedience, we paid tribute mere days ago to the life and legacy of Representative John Lewis, a man dedicated to peaceful civil disobedience.”

“His phrase ‘good trouble’ was called that precisely because protesting unjust laws means breaking those laws. Nevertheless, we have seen time and again that change does not happen without protesters who are willing to accept these consequences in order to upend the status quo and those who uphold it,” Marshall continued. “We stand with these freedom fighters–in Montgomery, Hoover, and across the state of Alabama–who are continuing to fight for a more just and equitable world where every social problem is not addressed with handcuffs.”

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Congress

Congressman and Civil Rights icon John Lewis has died

“Our country has lost one of its most beloved Civil Rights leaders,” said Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey.

Brandon Moseley

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U.S. Rep. John Lewis. (LORI SHAULL)

Alabama native turned Civil Rights Movement leader and Georgia Congressman John Lewis has died.

Congresswoman Terri Sewell, D-Selma, mourned the passing of her friend, colleague and mentor.

“My heart breaks for the passing of my dear friend and mentor Congressman John Lewis, but my spirit soars for an angel walked among us and we were all touched by his greatness. He forever changed Selma and this nation,” Sewell said. “May we finish his life’s work and restore the Voting Rights Act.”

“Congressman John Lewis was a beacon of light, hope and inspiration throughout his life,” Sewell continued. ”To be in his presence was to experience love, whole-hearted and without exception. Though he was so often met with hatred, violence and racial terrorism, it never permeated his being. He remained until his passing a faithful servant-leader, whose righteousness, kindness and vision for a more equitable future inspired all who were blessed to know him. I am honored to have been able to call him a mentor and colleague and, above all, a friend.”

Lewis grew up on a farm outside of Troy, where his family were sharecroppers. At 21, he became a Freedom Rider. At 23, he was the youngest speaker at the 1963 March on Washington. He was a close colleague of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in the Civil Rights Movement. King affectionately referred to him as “the boy from Troy.”

Lewis and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference’s Hosea Williams organized the first Selma to Montgomery voting rights march. Then-Alabama Gov. George Wallace ordered the then all-white Alabama State Troopers to stop Lewis and about 600 marchers. On March 7, 1965, the State Troopers, local law enforcement and hundreds of white citizen volunteers attacked Lewis and the other voting rights marchers when they attempted to cross the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma.

Lewis was among the many marchers beaten that day. The event is remembered as “Bloody Sunday.”

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“On Bloody Sunday in 1965, John was confronted by Alabama state troopers and their dogs, but he was determined to fight for equality and justice, putting his own life on the line in the service of others and a vision for a brighter future,” Sewell said. “So many times did John cross bridges, insisting that our nation live up to the promises enshrined in our constitution. As he always said, he gave a little blood on Selma bridge, but he also bridged the gaps that so often divide our political parties, working every day for a more just America.”

“John believed firmly that the best days of our nation lie ahead of us,” Sewell concluded. “It is his unwavering optimism that I will continue to call upon in moments of challenge and hardship. While John has left this earth, his legacy fighting for equality and justice lives on. I hope that our nation – and our leaders – will unite behind the cause most dear to John: voting rights. We must restore the Voting Rights Act of 1965 to its full strength so that every American – regardless of color – is able to make their voice heard at the ballot box. John, the ‘boy from Troy,’ was the conscience of the Congress. He will be dearly missed.”

“John Lewis was an American treasure,” said Martin Luther King III in a statement. “He gave a voice to the voiceless, and he reminded each of us that the most powerful nonviolent tool is the vote. Our hearts feel empty without our friend, but we find comfort knowing that he is free at last.”

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“Our country has lost one of its most beloved Civil Rights leaders,” said Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey. “I join my fellow Alabamians & the nation in mourning the death of Rep. John Lewis. He dedicated his life to serving his community & advocating for others. We’ll forever remember his heroism & his enduring legacy.”

Lewis announced that he had stage 4 pancreatic cancer in December.

He was absent at this year’s annual remembrance of Bloody Sunday in Selma on March 1. The annual Civil Rights Pilgrimage to Alabama had been led by Lewis every year until this one.

“Not many of us get to live to see our own legacy play out in such a meaningful, remarkable way,” former President Barack Obama wrote. “John Lewis did. And thanks to him, we now all have our marching orders — to keep believing in the possibility of remaking this country we love until it lives up to its full promise.”

Lewis was age 80. He was preceded in death by his wife, Lilian Miles Lewis, who died in 2012 after a long illness.

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Economy

Seven counties get grants to expand internet access

Micah Danney

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(STOCK PHOTO)

Seven internet providers will receive $2.9 million in grants between them to extend broadband services in seven Alabama communities, Gov. Kay Ivey’s office announced on Thursday. 

The grants were awarded through the Alabama Accessibility Fund that was created to extend service to homes, businesses and “community anchors” in unserved or underserved areas of the state. Community anchors include police or fire departments, city halls, libraries, schools and medical facilities.

The grants were distributed as follows:

  • Butler County: Hayneville Fiber Transport Inc. (Camellia Communications) – $128,797 to provide service availability to 48 households and four community anchors in the Sherling Lake community which is northwest of the city of Greenville.
  • Choctaw County/Washington County: Millry Telephone Co. Inc. – $954,902 to extend broadband service in the third phase of a project covering south Choctaw and north Washington counties. The project includes 559 households, 16 businesses and two anchors including Millry City Hall and Millry School. 
  • Cleburne County: Gigafy – $178,782 to provide access availability to 486 households and 38 businesses in the vicinity of the city of Heflin.
  • Cullman County: Cyber Broadband Inc. – $1.33 million to provide service availability to 1,600 households, 125 businesses and 50 community anchors in the vicinity of the Baileytown and Joppa communities in eastern Cullman County.
  • Dallas County: Spectrum Southeast – $55,481 to extend broadband service availability to 55 households in the Deerfield subdivision west of the city of Selma.
  • Lee County: Spectrum Southeast – $8,407 to provide high-speed cable access to eight households along Lee County Road 279 near the Halawaka community.
  • Tallapoosa County: Spectrum Southeast – $245,567 to extend service availability to 316 households in the Marina Marin area of Lake Martin near Alabama Highway 50.

A total of $18.5 million in grants has been awarded to expand internet access in Alabama, mostly to unserved rural areas.

“The COVID-19 pandemic further emphasized how essential broadband services are to the unserved and underserved residents of Alabama,” Ivey said in a statement. “Thanks to the Broadband Accessibility Fund and broadband providers, we are making progress in ensuring that Alabamians have access to high-speed internet services, but there is no question we have a long way to go on completing this mission.”

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