The Alabama Department of Transportation (ALDOT) has responded to criticism over the seeming lack of federal funding for the Interstate 10 Mobile River Bridge project and public criticism over the agency’s funding plans from U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne, R-Montross.
In an email, ALDOT spokeswoman Allison Gregg wrote that the agency is still open to federal funding options.
“We sincerely regret any misunderstanding that may exist with Congressman Byrne over the availability of federal funding for the Mobile River Bridge and Bayway project,” she wrote. “ALDOT has actively sought federal funding and remains completely open to using any funding anyone can provide, including federal funding.”
Byrne’s office did not respond to a request for comment on the issue, but he criticized ALDOT in pieces appearing in both state and local media recently over the agency’s refusal to use funding from a cost-sharing program for oil- and gas-producing Gulf states, including Alabama, to fund at least a portion of the project. Set up in 2006, the Gulf of Mexico Energy Security Act provides the funding.
In a follow-up phone interview, Gregg said ALDOT was more interested in other forms of federal revenue that could help better offset the “huge chunk of change” that is the $2 billion bridge project.
For the second consecutive year, the agency has applied for at least a portion of a $250 million U.S. Department of Transportation grant called Infrastructure For Rebuilding America, or INFRA.
ALDOT’s application was unsuccessful in 2018, but Gregg said the agency is hopeful to hear positive news about the INFRA grant this year, as ALDOT has reapplied. While there is no set timetable for when the government will announce the grant winners, Gregg said an announcement should be made by the end of summer.
Byrne wasn’t the only politician with suggestions for ALDOT. Mobile City Councilman Levon Manzie has sent a letter to Gov. Kay Ivey asking her to consider additional funding for the areas of the city most impacted by the bridge’s construction.
In the letter, Manzie asked Ivey about the concept of a community benefits agreement for “incredibly historic and vulnerable” local communities he represents.
“At a recent community meeting regarding the project, I introduced the concept of a community benefits agreement, which would compensate these communities, including the historic Africatown/Plateau and Down the Bay communities,” Manzie wrote to Ivey. “There was a good bit of interest in the idea and I believe it might be the best way to help mitigate the major inconvenience both communities will have to endure.”
In a phone interview, Manzie said that while Down the Bay will be adversely impacted by construction of the bridge, the Plateau community will be hurt by increased traffic caused from toll avoidance.
Both bridge construction and increased traffic can have a negative impact on quality of life, he said. He wants both communities to be treated “equally and with respect” as the project moves forward.
While the Cochrane–Africatown Bridge is an option for those drivers looking to avoid the proposed $3 to $6 tolls on the bridge, it’s not the only free route. The Bankhead Tunnel will not be tolled, Gregg said. Drivers looking to avoid tolls can take the Causeway to the Bankhead Tunnel, or the Cochrane–Africatown Bridge.
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