An unsolicited study prepared for the Coastal Alabama Partnership by the University of South Alabama Center for Real Estate and Economic Development suggests construction spending on the proposed I-10 bridge could generate 11,631 new jobs in an eight-county region and create at least $35 million in new local tax revenue. The resulting improvements to infrastructure could account for more than $1.5 billion in new economic activity, leading to an additional $523 million in new wages and $903 million in goods and services.
Dr. Donald Epley, director of the Center for Real Estate and Economic Development, said as a bridge proponent with access to existing proprietary data sets, he compiled the numbers on his own and submitted them to the CAP late last month.
“I’m one of those who believes a rising tide floats all boats,” Epley said. “We have a data vendor for which we pay an annual fee that gives us access to best data in the region — if not the state or country — and it’s made available to us quarterly. We also have a significant impediment to economic development (in the existing tunnels) and we know there is a link between economic development and transportation. We didn’t charge the Partnership anything, it needed to be done and needed to be out there with some numbers.”
Two areas of focus for the study were the distribution of the total impact among industries where new jobs will be created and the regional distribution of new economic activity resulting from construction funds.
Sixty-seven percent of new jobs, or more than 7,850, will be created in the construction industry, while fewer than 10 percent of new jobs in will be created in retail trade, health care and social assistance and professional, scientific and technical services. Other gains are predicted in accommodation and food services, government, real estate and manufacturing.
Epley explained that his conclusions were drawn upon an examination of three levels of impact: direct, indirect and induced. The direct impact will be the jobs and paying positions created, the indirect impact will be from goods the new wages will be used to purchase and the induced impact reflects how the same money is re-spent.
“A new bridge has a gravity effect,” he explained. “Say you’re looking at the bridge, and suddenly you want to drive over it and look around it. You’re also going to have to improve the roads around the bridge, and you’re going to have new firms established around the bridge. I think we estimated with an $850 million investment, it would create 97 new firms, but that may be a bit conservative and more difficult to estimate once you get 8-10 years out in the future.”
The distribution of an estimated $1.5 billion in new economic activity results in a distribution that parallels job creation, with the construction industry receiving an estimated $811 million and supporting industries dividing the remainder.
“The distribution of jobs and the distribution of new economic activity show that the greatest impact from the construction funds will be felt in Mobile and the surrounding seven counties,” Epley concluded in his report to the CAP.
Coastal Alabama Partnership President and CEO Wiley Blankenship said the organization would seek additional data from USA and elsewhere, but had also received preliminary infographics from the University of Alabama in Huntsville’s Office for Freight Logistics & Transportation making a multi-state argument for the bridge from a traffic perspective.
“At some point, probably in the not-too-distant future, the cost of delays will drive users to choose alternate routes for travel, move their freight, and look elsewhere to grow their operations,” the study suggests. “Lost opportunities could prove to be the highest cost for the entire region from Louisiana to Florida. Addressing the transportation bottleneck at the tunnels on I-10 will be necessary to prevent unacceptable levels of delay from negatively impacting regional economic growth.”
The report indicates the level of traffic at the George Wallace Tunnel may increase from around 60,000 vehicles per day in 2007 to more than 200,000 vehicles in 2040, largely the result of industry growth and increases in tourism. Epley said large manufacturers that may be considering the area will indeed seek alternate sites if transportation primary routes become uneconomical.
“Airbus is going to want to go east through tunnel and when there is some development at the Baldwin County mega site they are going to want to move west. You have to start to look at the tunnel as an impediment,” he said.
Blankenship said he would use the studies and forthcoming data to build a broader coalition in support of the bridge.
“With this I can say, ‘our issue is really your issue,’ because if you have commerce moving east and west it’s going to have to come through here and delays are occurring,” he said. “It adds up to additional costs to the customer, the client and the consumer. So we’re not through with this.”
Local leaders are expected to discuss continued planning of the bridge at a breakfast meeting Oct. 22. Public comment is being solicited online through Nov. 7 for the final Environmental Impact Statement. For more information visit www.buildthei10bridge.com.