Local plans for a new Mobile River Bridge and Bayway received a major boost today when the Alabama Department of Transportation expressed support for the recently-announced framework in a letter to Eastern Shore Metropolitan Planning Organization Chairman Jack Burrell and Mobile MPO Chairman Sandy Stimpson.
In the letter, ALDOT says that it “supports the framework that has been developed by the Eastern Shore MPO and Mobile MPO” and notes that its proposed plan will incorporate the points outlined in the MPO framework.
Additionally, ALDOT reiterates that it will commit at least $250 million in state funding for a final project, which is double the federal commitment and would make this one of the largest road infrastructure investments in Alabama history.
“Because of ALDOT’s commitment, we’re closer to a long-term solution for our traffic problems,” said Eastern Shore MPO Chairman Jack Burrell. “The financial commitments and requirement that both tunnels, the causeway, and the Africatown bridge remain free routes lock in the key components of our framework. Members of both MPOs are excited to continue our work to finalize a locally-driven and locally-supported plan.”
“Support from the state is critical to moving this project forward and to setting our region of the state up for long-term success. The commitment of at least $250 million is significant, and it is an investment that’s in line with other major infrastructure projects across the state,” said Mobile MPO Chairman Sandy Stimpson. “We know that without action, we risk losing existing federal funding as our traffic problems get worse. We are looking forward to continuing our work to turn this framework into a final plan.”
On Dec. 15, both the Eastern Shore and Mobile MPOs announced and unanimously supported a new framework for the Mobile River Bridge and Bayway. That framework outlines a project that would be completed within five years, maintains numerous free routes, and limits tolling to a maximum of $2.50 for passenger vehicles who choose to use the new infrastructure.
In a recent poll, the Coastal Alabama Partnership found that 75 percent of voters in Mobile and Baldwin counties support the framework.
Text of the letter from ALDOT Director John Cooper follows.
Dear Chairman Burrell and Chairman Stimpson,
The Alabama Department of Transportation has received your letter sharing the framework for a solution to the traffic congestion problem crossing Mobile Bay that has been developed by the Eastern Shore MPO and Mobile MPO. We appreciate the framework and commend your leadership for developing this locally-supported solution.
I am tasking Edward N. Austin, our Chief Engineer, and Matt Ericksen, Southwest Region Engineer, with developing a detailed plan based on your framework. For the past several weeks, our personnel have been working to update the environmental document for the project as well as re-start the traffic and revenue studies necessary to support a detailed financing plan for the project. While much work remains to be completed, preliminary results are encouraging. We look forward to completion of this work and the project plan at the earliest possible date.
The plan to be developed from your framework will include the following key parameters:
- Rather than taking a piecemeal approach, we will recommend a plan that is comprehensive and should be completed in five years once construction begins. While this is a very short timeline for such a massive project, we agree with your assessment that a comprehensive solution must be developed now. This should include a new six-lane Mobile River bridge, a new Bayway built to current safety and longevity standards, and appropriate interchanges in Baldwin and Mobile Counties.
- The plan moving forward must include free, no toll options to cross Mobile Bay, including free use of the Causeway, the Africatown Bridge, and the Wallace and Bankhead tunnels.
- We anticipate a plan based on financial data and traffic counts to fund all new construction using at least $250 million in state funding, $125 million in federal funding and a toll that shall not exceed $2.50 for passenger vehicles that choose to use the new infrastructure. We will continue to work with the MPOs on flat-rate tolling for frequent business and personal travel across the Bayway.
- Revenue from this project, as well as any new federal or state funding that may become available in the future for this project will be applied to pay off debt for this project only. All tolls will end when debt is paid.
- All new infrastructure will be owned by the state and this project will not include any private concessionaire.
In summary, from a state perspective, we support the framework that has been developed by the Eastern Shore MPO and Mobile MPO. Please notify your respective staffs that our team will be reaching out to them in the coming days to take the next steps to prepare a plan for your organizations to consider soon.