Tuesday, the Alabama Department of Transportation’s Mobile River Bridge plan received another crushing body blow when a powerful State Senator and a member of the Alabama Toll Bridge and Road Authority came out publicly against the plan.
State Senate Pro Tem Del Marsh, R-Anniston, said in a statement that a six dollar toll is not fair or reasonable.
“The matter of toll roads and bridges should be left up to local communities with input from their citizens and legislators on what is fair and how those much those tolls should be,” Marsh said. “I will, explore all legislative options to ensure this project is fair and reasonable to the citizens of South Alabama — and a $6 toll is not fair or reasonable.”
This came fresh on the heels of an announcement Monday from Alabama Lieutenant Governor Will Ainsworth (R) that he opposes ALDOT’s controversial toll bridge plan and will be a no vote.
The two powerful state leaders are two of the nine members of the Alabama Toll Bridge and Road Authority that will ultimately decide the fate of the ALDOT toll bridge, if this project even gets that far.
“I will proudly be casting a no vote and standing with the hardworking families of Baldwin and
Mobile Counties,” Ainsworth said.
The plan faces a critical test today at the Mobile Metropolitan Planning and Organization today. 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 the Eastern Shore Metropolitan Planning to delist the unpopular toll bridge from their TIP list. The Mayors of Fairhope and Spanish Fort both publicly oppose the ALDOT plan and they have seats on the Mobile MPO board.
That group meets on August 28 and could consider the measure then.
Marsh’s comment that, “The matter of toll roads and bridges should be left up to local communities with input from their citizens and legislators on what is fair and how those much those tolls should be,” is a strong blow to the toll bridge plan.
Polling shows that 77 percent of the people in Mobile and Baldwin Counties oppose the toll bridge plan. An incredible 52,391 citizens, mostly from South Alabama, have joined a Facebook group opposing the toll bridge plan. If this is a local issue, then the people of South Alabama have spoken in a loud, clear voice to anyone who is listening that they do not want a toll bridge.
Alabama Governor Kay Ivey (R) went on Birmingham talk radio station 99.5 FM on Tuesday and said that the bridge was a statewide issue because of planned ambitious port improvements and the economic impact that will have for the rest of the state.
A working family in Baldwin and Mobile Counties with two cars would spend almost $2,200 a year on prepaid toll passes.
Toll opponents insist that would be an excessive burden.
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 that 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.
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.
Original reporting by the Alabama Media Group, the Yellowhammer News, and 99.5 FM News/Talk in Birmingham contributed to this report.