Gov. Robert Bentley told a United States Senate panel Wednesday morning that he was not opposed to having the much-discussed Interstate 10 bridge project over the Mobile River compete for federal dollars against projects of similar size.
Bentley, vice president of the Economic Development and Commerce Committee of the National Governors Association, testified before the Senate’s Environment and Public Works Committee, when he was asked by Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., about the possibility of competitive grants for “regionally and nationally significant projects” that fall outside of typical funding streams, like the I-10 bridge project.
“It’s better to have them compete than to not have them at all,” he told her.
Bentley added, from a federal government perspective, it is best to look at the importance of each project in terms of safety, security and the economy.
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., asked Bentley if he thought funding for projects, like the bridge, should come from a separate stream of federal money from more typical projects.
“I believe what you said is exactly what I said in my testimony,” Bentley said. “There has to be a different stream of funding for those projects of regional and national significance and they should be competitive.”
Bentley highlighted some of the safety concerns faced by folks who use the George Wallace tunnel. He told the senators “all the highways come into one tunnel” and with that also comes the transfer of hazardous waste through that area.
The committee hearing was the beginning of work to pass a long-term highway and infrastructure funding bill. Bentley, Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin and U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx told the panel, chaired by Republican Oklahoma Senator Jim Inhofe, they would prefer to see a long-range plan put in place before funding comes to a halt in May.
The bridge project is meant to help the area avoid future travel problems caused by infrastructure that’s not designed for the amount of vehicles it currently handles and will need to handle in the future. For instance, the Wallace Tunnel was built for 55,000 vehicles daily, a mark that was reached in the 1990s, according to a coalition supporting the I-10 bridge project.
Currently, an average of 75,000 vehicles use the tunnel each day and it’s expected see about 100,000 daily vehicles by the time the bridge is built.
The project is estimated to cost around $850 million.