I don’t know which is more dead — the project to build a bridge over the Mobile River on I-10 or Gov. Kay Ivey’s political future — but I give the (non-tolled) bridge a better chance of resurrection.
Our sock puppet governor and her handlers continued their tone-deaf tantrum over the failure of their uber-expensive, toll-driven P3 bridge plan this week by yanking State Sen. Chris Elliott off a statewide infrastructure board known as ATRIP II. It was a clumsy first retaliatory shot across the bow of those who opposed the toll.
As local officials prepared in August to vote on whether to include federal bridge funding in the Metropolitan Planning Organizations’ (MPO) Transportation Improvement Plans, not-so-veiled threats rained down from the governor’s office about what might happen if local officials used this as a backdoor way of blocking the unpopular toll bridge plan. But the block took place anyway and Ivey stamped her foot just a few minutes later, declaring the entire project “dead.”
That defeat — along with the discovery of a radio broadcast from her college years in which she discussed participating in a blackface skit — made last week the worst of her already unspectacular time as the state’s top official. So it appears she decided to double down this week by swinging back at those who didn’t march in lockstep for tolls.
Ivey’s office has denied Elliott’s removal was punitive, but that’s particularly hard to buy given the condescending statements gigging Elliott on his way off the committee. It’s also worth noting Ivey actually put Elliott on the committee just a few months ago, but apparently her assessment of his abilities has changed.
“Serving on ATRIP II is a privilege, not an entitlement,” Ivey said in a statement, sounding like an angry parent taking away a cell phone or Xbox. The rest of her statement subtly suggested serving on the board came with responsibilities too important for the freshman Baldwin County senator.
But easily the biggest sign Elliott’s removal from the board was nothing more than a trip to the woodshed is that Ivey passed over the rest of the Republican senators from the Mobile-Baldwin delegation in favor of Democrat State Sen. Vivian Figures. While Figures indeed has the most seniority of any senator in the coastal delegation, she also led whatever weak charge Senate Democrats could muster earlier this year against Ivey’s gas tax increase, complaining it unfairly hurt poorer Alabamians.
Whether Figures replacing Elliott on ATRIP II will actually do anything to harm Southwest Alabama’s position when it comes to spending gas tax money remains to be seen. But it cost Elliott a position getting to help decide where tens of millions will be spent each year.
For his part, Elliott clearly believes his removal is punishment for moving from his early support of the governor’s toll plan to following the wishes of his constituents who were clearly against any fee for crossing the bridge. That Ivey’s office didn’t even bother to let Elliott know he’d been replaced is yet another example of open disdain.
“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 I-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.”
The Elliott smackdown was petty and points to a governor’s office more interested in flexing its muscles and political payback than actually finding a solution to this problem. Ivey’s handlers had already counted most of the local pols in their “win” column in shoving the P3 bridge project down our collective throats. Even with the groundswell of opposition to the toll growing louder and louder, Ivey’s office and ALDOT gave zero thought to any other option for financing the project and are left simply fuming.
Use of the MPOs to stop the project did not appear to have caught the governor’s office off guard. Local officials on both MPOs were lined up to do their part to move the project forward for the governor, but when word got out they could stop it, things got way too hot in the kitchen for them to push the toll forward.
Part of Ivey’s sting in this has to be the belief she had the power to ignore the wishes of this community and push through a project that would make billions for the P3 investor and leave locals enriching them for the next half century. In this case, though, grassroots politics won the day.
Unfortunately, the state has already spent roughly $60 million on this project and at this time there’s no one really working to pick up the pieces and find a way to get this thing across the goal line in a way the public can swallow. Normally you might expect the governor to fill that position, but apparently she’s more interested in doling out punishment.
The governor’s office should be leading the charge to have the federal government pay for the new bridge on their federal highway and raising the Bayway to fit their federal mandates. But she’s never shown a bit of interest in doing that.
Montgomery insiders have always described Ivey as doddering and not really being physically or mentally up to the challenges of being governor, and that talk has only intensified as of late. Her behavior in this matter seems to make it clear she intends to operate as a lame duck until her term ends in 2022.
In the second most populous area of the state, she is persona non grata at this point. Burnishing her failed attempt to ramrod the toll bridge through by doling out political hits on Mobile/Baldwin pols who abandoned a plan no one here wanted makes her seem more like a tin pot dictator than any kind of actual leader. Further acts of retribution will only make it worse, as this whole escapade has pulled back the curtain on Ivey’s administration, showing it wanting for thoughtful, creative direction.
We still need a bridge over the Mobile River, and we still need someone to find a way to make it happen without tolls. But we don’t need Kay Ivey. She’s dead to us.
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