That should have been the refrain from Mobile Mayor Sandy Stimpson at a joint press conference earlier this month with Fairhope City Council President Jack Burrell held on behalf of the Mobile and Eastern Shore metropolitan planning organizations (MPOs).
“Last call” is what is uttered as the lights come on at the bar and the final drink orders are filled before closing time. And if you’re looking for someone to go home with, your choices are what you see before you.
This is true for Stimpson and Burrell’s I-10 Mobile Bridge and Bayway project proposal. A $125 million U.S. Department of Transportation grant is about to expire. The political circumstances of an election would prevent a heavy-handed Gov. Kay Ivey and Alabama Department of Transportation (ALDOT) Director John Cooper from imposing their will on the citizens of Southwest Alabama.
If residents reject this proposal, there likely could be other proposals — but you’re going to have to wait a few years to hear them.
Cue Mickey Gilley’s “Don’t the Girls All Get Prettier at Closing Time.”
It is not a great deal, but it is better than no deal at all — the alternative being going home and taping a picture of the I-10 Twin Span Bridge in Louisiana to your ceiling.
Nonetheless, the toll is capped at $2.50, an improvement upon the failed 2019 proposal. However, the fact there is a toll at all seems wildly unfair given other major infrastructure highway and bridge projects around the state are immune from tolling.
And there are questions about the free routes as the no-toll options. Sure, the Causeway, the Wallace Tunnel, the Bankhead Tunnel and the Africatown Bridge will be free, but they do not all serve the same purpose. The existing Africatown Bridge and the Wallace and Bankhead tunnels will serve as a crossing for the Mobile River.
But do they all merge onto the Causeway? That ought to be a smooth bumper-to-bumper ride to Spanish Fort.
And, by the way, those of you who take that exit for U.S. 98 to head south to Daphne and Fairhope — it is not clear what future lies ahead for that interchange.
However, the plan has also tempered any political opportunism (for now) of those who might be considering an anti-toll, slash-and-burn election campaign.
The two frontrunners in the race for the GOP nod for Alabama’s U.S. Senate seat up next year, Katie Britt and Mo Brooks, have politely said they would defer to whatever local voters and officials will support.
Perhaps it comes up in a potential gubernatorial race against Ivey. But given Tim James presumed frontrunner status as the best Ivey challenger, is it a savvy political move for a guy who has made a lot of money off private toll roads to hammer Ivey on a toll issue?
However, the hesitancy tells you what you need to know: Even the most opportunistic are reluctant to cater just yet to the Never Tollers who populate social media.
Take it or leave it, right? At this point, if the MPOs are on board with the governor and the ALDOT director, what is to stop it?
By the time the bridge is finished, which, under this proposal, would be within five years of the start, $2.50 in 2027 (an arbitrary date to assign to the bridge’s completion) may only be worth 25 cents.
How long will the solution last? Since the arrival of the automobile to Southwest Alabama in the first quarter of the 20th century, getting across the Mobile Bay from Mobile County to Baldwin County and vice-versa has not had a long-lasting solution.
Before the 1920s, a series of ferries connected Mobile with the Eastern Shore.
The Causeway came in 1926, supplemented by the vertical-lift truss Cochrane Bridge.
In the early 1940s, the Bankhead Tunnel opened, which shortened the journey for motorists by directly connecting downtown Mobile to the Causeway.
In the 1970s, the so-called Bayway, which included the Wallace Tunnel, finished a pivotal part of I-10’s transcontinental trek.
In the early 1990s, the Africatown-Cochrane Bridge replaced the old Cochrane Bridge, which remains an out-of-the-way thoroughfare for travelers,f but serves commercial traffic.
See the trend? Every 20 to 30 years, we have to design a new solution to remedy traffic congestion crossing Mobile Bay.
Is there any way we can anticipate the usefulness of this project? By the time this proposed bridge would be obsolete, would we be in flying cars? And all of this would be an enormous waste of money?
For now, it is last call. There won’t be a stop at Solomon’s on the ride home to explore other possibilities.
Punt by calling it a night and go to bed, or seize the opportunity and deal with the consequences later.
Neither is the ideal scenario, but rarely are we afforded a perfect plan in life.
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