The Alabama Department of Transportation has received statements of qualifications (SOQs) from four groups interested in building and financing the proposed Mobile River bridge.

For Mike Lee, chairman of the Build the I-10 Bridge Coalition, the announcement from ALDOT means they are sticking to a timeline that could mean construction would start in 2019, which he said is exciting.

“It’s what we’ve been working toward,” Lee said. “There’s a timetable now.”

ALDOT Mobile Division spokeswoman Allison Gregg confirmed that ALDOT was moving along a similar timeline; however, she cautioned it’s unclear what construction might look like in 2019.

The response from the four groups does indicate there is national and international interest in the development of the project, which Gregg said was not necessarily a given when the project was first announced.

“In the big picture for these projects … so few firms can come together and deliver it,” Gregg said. “To have four different groups of firms come forward is really exciting.”

All four groups have also been tasked with coming up with financing options for the project, which fills at least part of the financial hole that was discussed when the project first took shape. Shifting costs to drivers using the bridge is one alternative.

“We’re looking at tolls,” she said. “We’re studying it right now to determine how much a toll would be.”

Gregg said tolls would be a way to shift the cost onto drivers who take the bridge, especially tourists. ALDOT would continue to leave the Bankhead tunnel open as an alternative route, she said, but the Wallave Tunnel would be tolled.

The financial backing of the developers through ALDOT’s first public-private partnership would allow the federal government to chip in, which could lessen the burden on developers and future travelers, Lee said.

In a meeting last year in Washington, D.C., the coalition and others were told to come back with a plan and the Federal Highway Administration could possibly find a way to help with funding. Lee said the group and ALDOT now have a plan.

“This public-private partnership gives us a way to get federal help,” he said.

Grant funding is still an option as well. Gregg said ALDOT recently applied for a grant through the U.S. Department of Transportation.

The proposed project has three major components, according to an ALDOT statement: a new, aesthetically pleasing cable-stayed bridge over the Mobile River; replacement of the existing bayway; and five interchange modifications.

The Mobile River Bridge will be a six-lane facility with a minimum vertical clearance of 215 feet over the Mobile River to assure the viability of Mobile’s maritime industry. The reconstructed bayway will provide eight lanes of travel for 7.5 miles and be built to an elevation above the 100-year storm surge level. The interchange modifications will assure safe and easy access to the interstate and surrounding infrastructure.

ALDOT will review the SOQ responses to determine which teams will advance to the Request for Proposal (RFP) stage of the project. Release of both a short list of selected proposers and the draft RFP is set for early 2018, Gregg said.

The RFPs will be sent out by Jan. 1 and the groups will be given most of 2018 to respond. Construction on the project could begin by the first quarter of 2019, Lee said. From there, it’s a four-year construction window.

This story was updated to correct information about tolls on the Wallace Tunnel.