Mobile officials seem to be in favor of the Interstate 10 Mobile River Bridge project, despite the unpopular toll proposal and increased concern over traffic caused from avoidance of those user fees.
The Alabama Department of Transportation has announced the agency is looking at tolls of $3 to $6 to help pay for the project through a public-private partnership. Mobile Mayor Sandy Stimpson acknowledged there is no project without the tolls, adding that his “unofficial position” on the user fees included making them less expensive for residents of Mobile and Baldwin counties.
“I think that some people are, you know, either hearing it and not acknowledging that there will be a free route,” Stimpson said. “You know you don’t have to pay a toll.”
Although the Alabama Department of Transportation (ALDOT) has yet to officially quantify toll avoidance, project spokesman Allison Gregg said, the agency has released numbers related to traffic along popular corridors across Mobile Bay with or without the bridge project.
Those figures, which are part of the supplemental draft environmental impact study, show that more than 70,000 drivers per day currently use the Wallace Tunnel and I-10. At the same time, more than 16,000 drivers each use the Bankhead Tunnel, the causeway and the Cochrane-Africatown Bridge, which would become the free route once the bridge is completed.
If the project is not completed, ALDOT has estimated the traffic per day along the Cochrane-Africatown Bridge would increase by more than 30,000 to 49,840 by 2040. Those same estimates show that some 28,136 drivers would take the Bankhead Tunnel by 2040 with no bridge project, while the traffic along I-10 would increase to more than 95,000 per day.
If the bridge project is completed, daily drivers on the Cochrane Bridge by 2040 would increase to 51,163, while some 34,288 would take the Wallace Tunnel. More than 23,000 would take the Bankhead Tunnel, ALDOT estimates. At the same time, the agency expects almost 46,000 drivers to take the bridge by 2040. The numbers illustrate that traffic will increase more along the causeway and the untolled tunnel and bridge if the project is completed.
The increased traffic burden on areas, like Plateau, has caught the attention of Councilman Levon Manzie, who represents downtown Mobile.
“I think it’s no more than reasonable and fair that a community-benefits agreement is put in place with the residents, both in the Down the Bay area and with the Plateau area,” Manzie said. “We’re going to have to bear the brunt of what’s going to take place so that this bridge can be built. If there’s a toll that’s implemented, some financial recourse so that the amenities can be kept up to date so that those disturbances that those communities … will have to deal with are taken into consideration.”
Despite rumors to the contrary, Gregg confirmed that all of the current Bayway exits would remain the same and drivers would be able to get off at midbay and at the Bankhead Tunnel to take advantage of segmented tolling.
A large portion of the $2 billion cost associated with the project comes from a plan to raise the existing portions of the Bayway by some 10 feet. Gregg confirmed that comes from a federal mandate to avoid future hurricane damage.
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