Gov. Kay Ivey announced this week she would be terminating Sen. Chris Elliott, R-Fairhope, from a position on a statewide infrastructure committee and replacing him with Democratic Sen. Vivian Figures of Mobile. (Photos by contributed)
Less than two weeks after declaring the Interstate 10 Mobile River Bridge and Bayway “dead,” Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey has removed one of the opponents of her funding proposal for the project from a newly established statewide infrastructure committee.
The governor’s office confirmed Sept. 9 that State Sen. Chris Elliott, R-Fairhope, had been removed from the Alabama Transportation Rehabilitation and Improvement Program II (ATRIP II) committee at Ivey’s discretion and will be replaced by State Sen. Vivian Figures, D-Mobile.
“Serving on ATRIP II is a privilege, not an entitlement,” Ivey said in a statement. “It also carries with it significant responsibilities and as such, I have asked Senator Vivian Davis Figures — the most senior senator from the Mobile/Baldwin County delegation — to take my appointment to this committee.”
The eight-member committee, which was formed after the Legislature passed Alabama’s new gas tax increase earlier this year, is tasked with overseeing how some of the resulting revenue will be used to support infrastructure projects around the state through the existing ATRIP program. The committee is expected to handle $30 million to $50 million annually as revenue from the gas tax continues to grow.
Figures will join the committee at its meeting Friday, Sept. 13, along with fellow members Alabama Department of Transportation (ALDOT) Director John Cooper; State Sens. Arthur Orr and Garlan Gudger; State Reps. Bill Poole, Steve Clouse and Debbie Wood; and Tony Cherry, president of the Association of County Commissioners of Alabama.
However, the local shakeup comes less than two weeks after ALDOT’s plan to build the much-anticipated Mobile River Bridge unraveled amid local opposition to funding a large portion of the $2.1 billion project with tolls — fees ALDOT said could have started as high as $6 each way.
That particular proposal, which Ivey strongly endorsed, met its fate during a meeting of the Eastern Shore Metropolitan Planning Organization (ESMPO) in late August after its Policy Board voted to remove the project from its 2020-2023 Transportation Improvement Plan (TIP) altogether.
That decision effectively ended the potential for federal funding being used to support the bridge’s construction, and within a few minutes, Ivey published a statement bluntly stating: “This project is dead.”
While Elliott wasn’t on the policy board that voted to “kill” the project, he had abandoned his previous support for the project in the months leading up to the vote, due to the groundswell of local opposition to the tolls.
Elliott had supported the project in the past — even with some tolling — but sponsored legislation to lower costs for the state and concessionaires earlier this year, which he hoped would lower the overall cost of the project. Elliott said he let the governor’s office know ahead of time he was not going to continue to support the project if an alternative funding source wasn’t identified, and eventually made good on that promise.
Now, Elliott believes his removal from the ATRIP II committee is a retalitory move by Ivey.
“I was disappointed to learn through media reports of the governor’s decision to remove me from ATRIP, but unfortunately this action did not come as a surprise. It’s clear the governor’s office is disappointed with my decision to withdraw my support for her flawed I-10 Mobile River Bridge and Bayway proposal,” Elliott told Lagniappe on Monday. “I’ve long been and will remain a proponent of finding a solution to the 1-10 corridor, but not a solution that will be on the backs of the people I represent. I respect the governor’s decision in this matter, but I hope she understands I will always vigorously advocate for the people I represent first.”
Elliott said he first learned about his appointment being terminated from media reports and wasn’t notified by Ivey’s office ahead of time. A few minutes after speaking to Lagniappe, he posted a copy of a letter he received from the governor on Monday notifying him of the decision.
The comments on Elliott’s post indicated that many agreed with the senator that the move was retaliatory, with some continuing calls for Ivey to resign, which originated as part of the backlash to the toll proposal. It’s also worth noting that it was Ivey who made the original decision to appoint Elliott — a newly elected state senator — to the ATRIP II committee, which only met for the first time in May.
Despite the optics, Ivey has rejected the notion that Elliott’s removal was somehow retaliatory. A spokesperson for her office said the shakeup was about Figures’ qualifications as “one of the most senior members of the local legislative delegation,” not Elliott’s stance on the I-10 bridge project.
“Senator Figures has a proven track record of seeking progress and finding ways to bring people together who are seeking common ground,” Ivey said. “Given that South Alabama has so many priorities reflecting the growth and activity in this region, I thought it was better to have someone who knows how to get things done and has a record of working with everyone.”
In March, Figures was one of the senators who opposed Ivey’s 10-cent gas tax increase, saying it would hurt the poor. The gas tax increase passed overwhelmingly and was signed into law by Ivey. Calls and emails to Figures seeking a comment her appointment to the ATRIP II committee did not receive a response as of this publication’s press deadline.
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