The Alabama Department of Transportation (ALDOT) held a joint meeting with the Mobile and Eastern Shore Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPOs) Monday and, contrary to its existing “phase approach” for the Mobile River Bridge and Bayway Project, announced it would consider recent requests to study options for a concurrent project.
Both MPOs voted to include the state’s phased proposal in their planning documents earlier this year, but on Sept. 1, Chairmen Sandy Stimpson of Mobile and Jack Burrell of Fairhope wrote ALDOT Director John Cooper urging him to study the financial feasibility of a single-phase project.
“We have been continuing to look at those options, and once we put those together, we will meet with both MPOs and have public meetings to share options and results,” ALDOT Project Manager Edwin Perry said Monday. “But as of right now, it’s a phased project.”
In the second of near-monthly meetings between the MPOs and ALDOT for updates on the project, Perry said the state has hired a contractor to gather new traffic data and complete traffic modeling, which will allow fine-tuning of design specifications and financial projections, to get a credit rating for loans and bonds needed to build the project.
Also, ALDOT is continuing to work on right of way acquisition and rights of entry, which will allow the agency to conduct archaeological studies on 15 suspected cultural sites, an effort expected to take one and a half years to complete. Perry said separate efforts are ongoing to form a steering committee for planned mitigation in Africatown.
“The next steps are to develop additional study options as requested by the MPOs,” Perry said. “The results will be submitted back to the MPOs and if the options are supported and adopted, they will need to amend their [transportation planning documents]. ALDOT will then be able to update documentation and reports, make environmental updates and begin working on procurement to start building the project.”
Mobile MPO Coordinator Kevin Harrison noted the process would include additional public hearings.
ALDOT’s phased approach included the building of a single bridge span and its west approach in the first phase for $725 million, and open the improvements to trucks only for a $15 toll. A second phase would add a second span and improvements to tunnel and downtown interchanges, while only the third phase would rebuild the entire Bayway and improve turn lanes on the Eastern Shore.
In their letter, Stimpson and Burrell expressed concerns about safety, time and expenses involved with a multiphase project. On Monday, Perry acknowledged a single-phase project would indeed cost less.
“Nothing gets cheaper as you wait,” he said. “This project would be a lot of concrete work and steel work, and being able to keep those contractors and efficiencies would definitely make it cheaper.”
Harrison said the parties expect to meet for another update in late November or early December.
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