A possible revival of the Mobile River Bridge project was discussed by business, political and civic leaders at a closed-door meeting last week.
Discussions were very limited, but those in attendance agreed the bridge, in some capacity, was necessary for the future of the area and they wanted to see a less costly version of the project move forward, sources said.
Lagniappe attempted to attend the meeting, but a reporter was told by Mobile County Commissioner Connie Hudson the meeting was not open to the public because there wasn’t a quorum of elected officials, either as part of the metropolitan planning organization (MPO) or as part of the County Commission. Hudson did say the reporter could speak to anyone after the meeting adjourned.
Mobile County Commissioner Jerry Carl was present at what he described as a “very informal” meeting.
“All we agreed to is we’re going to come up with a much less costly alternative,” he said.
The group agreed to reach a consensus on the bridge project and then “reach out to” Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey “as one,” Carl said. “There are no specific plans.”
In September, Ivey said there was “no pathway forward” for the project after the Eastern Shore MPO voted to take it out of its transportation improvement plan, which would make it eligible for federal funds. The biggest issue driving opposition to the project was a proposed $6, one-way toll for use of the entire project, including the George Wallace Tunnel, which is decades old. The toll was designed to payback in spades a concessionaire through a 50-year contract.
More recently, Ivey has left the door open for local leaders to come up with alternatives.
As for Carl, he’d like to see a plan where the bridge gets built without charging tolls, especially on the tunnel. He also said the project would’ve been much cheaper had they not proposed raising the entire Bayway.
“If [the Alabama Department of Transportation (ALDOT)] didn’t [propose a] toll on the tunnel and left the Bayway alone, it would be a dead issue,” Carl said.
Plans had called for the Bayway to be raised by 10 feet to put it above the 100-year floodplain.
Mike Lee, president of the Build a Bridge Coalition, agreed, adding his group had tried to negotiate an alternative with ALDOT that would’ve left the Bayway at its current height, but the vote to remove the project from the transportation improvement program (TIP) happened before they could make any headway.
“We couldn’t have been more disappointed the project was taken out of the plan,” he said. “We wanted time to work on alternatives.”
As for the meeting itself, Lee said it was informal and hopefully could lead to more meetings in the future.
State Sen. Greg Albritton, R-Atmore, said he has been trying to figure out a path forward for the project since it was voted out of the TIP in September. He said the bridge is vital to the economic growth of communities in both Mobile and Baldwin counties, just like when the Bayway was first opened.
Wiley Blankenship, president and CEO of the Coastal Alabama Partnership, called the meeting “conceptual.” He said most in attendance agreed there has to be a movement forward on the project.
“The meeting was setting the tone to start that process,” Blankenship said.
Blankenship said the tolls stopped the project, but the group wanted to try to bring it back to life.
“The toll is what killed it,” Blakenship said. “This ridiculously high toll killed it.”
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