The way Daphne City Councilman Robin Lejeune sees it, asking citizens of Baldwin and Mobile counties to bear the brunt of tolls to build a new Interstate 10 bridge is piling on.
His city and both counties are sending gobs of money north to Montgomery in the form of sales, lodging and gas taxes and he sees tolling the new bridge as another way to cash in on the local economic success.
“Baldwin County, our citizens say, is the cash cow to the rest of the state,” Lejeune said. “Our citizens are starting to get tired of being the cash cow. It’s a big concern that they keep putting that burden on this area.”
Elected officials at just about every level from U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne to State Auditor Jim Zeigler have lined up against the plan to pay for the $2.1 billion project with tolls. City councils on the Eastern Shore are joining in expressing their displeasure with the plan.
Daphne and Spanish Fort councils each passed resolutions coming out totally against the tolls, or at least favoring a reduction in the state’s initial plan that could cost families and businesses potentially thousands of extra dollars a year. Fairhope is considering a resolution.
“We have a lot of citizens that work in Mobile that travel back and forth and we do a lot of business,” Lejeune said. “I have a restaurant and we get product from the Mobile area, from Bayou La Batre for me to get my seafood in. It’s just going to increase the cost of everything.”
Mayor Karin Wilson of Fairhope said a new I-10 bridge has been a topic locally for many years and questioned the sudden urgency she says is pushing the project and the toll plan.
“To react as though building it now is an overnight emergency is absurd,” Wilson wrote in a social media post. “Proposing a toll due to lack of strategic planning and budgeting is not the answer. I’m 100 percent against a toll to build this bridge whatever the fee.”
Fairhope is considering a resolution against the toll plan and Daphne began discussing it in May and formalized it at its Aug. 5 meeting. Spanish Fort came out against the plan formally in a July 17 vote. Officials in Foley, Gulf Shores and Orange Beach all say they have no plans to pass any resolutions about the I-10 project or tolls but it was also discussed at a recent Loxley town council work session.
Mayor Mike McMillan of Spanish Fort says the tolls will create at least two headaches for his town, the first being increased traffic.
“Naturally, we’re concerned about traffic issues it will cause with the people trying to avoid the toll and congesting all the streets in Spanish Fort, the Causeway and everything else,” McMillan said.
Lots of people cross over from Mobile to take in the shopping areas and restaurants in Spanish Fort. Having to pay to reach them may take a toll on businesses there, McMillan said.
“I think there’s great concerns in both counties and everywhere in the state it should be a concern,” McMillan said. “You are setting a precedent for things that could affect people in North Alabama at some point.”
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