The chairmen of the Mobile and Eastern Shore Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPOs) sent a joint letter to Alabama Transportation Director John Cooper recently, urging him to study the financial feasibility of a single-phase Mobile Bridge and Bayway project.
In June, members of both organizations voted to add Phase I of the Alabama Department of Transportation’s (ALDOT) proposed three-phase project to their planning documents, but the Sept. 1 letter indicates local officials are wary about safety during construction, and the length of time it may take to complete.
“As you know, MPO members from both Mobile and the Eastern Shore have expressed concern about the three-phase approach,” the letter read. “The first concern is that restriping the Bayway may compromise safety as the lanes would be narrowed and the shoulders would be eliminated. Also of major concern is that it will likely take at least 12-15 years to complete the entire project. MPO members are hopeful a feasible way can be found to build the phases concurrently, which would eliminate these concerns. Accordingly, both MPOs request that ALDOT broaden its study to enable it to report back to the MPOs as to what financial structure would be required to build all three phases simultaneously.”
Mobile Mayor Sandy Stimpson chairs the Mobile MPO, while its Eastern Shore counterpart is chaired by Fairhope City Council President Jack Burrell.
Reached by phone today, Burrell said ALDOT is currently studying financing for the project as if it were to be built in phases, and the request is simply that they also provide options for if the project is completed all at once. ALDOT’s initial single-phase proposal broke down in 2019 after the Eastern Shore MPO refused to adopt the funding plan, which included tolls of as much as $7 each way for passenger cars.
Burrell said the three-phase “truck bridge” proposal introduced earlier this year was “a means to an end,” after neither ALDOT nor local officials proposed a more palatable, comprehensive solution.
“In their defense, I don’t think they were married to that idea, but it was something that would work,” he said. “But we need it to be further studied to find out whether or not that’s the best option for us.”
Burrell said the MPOs are communicating openly with ALDOT and members of the governor’s administration, but believe a comprehensive project will require the cooperation of the federal government. He has previously proposed his own financing framework, hinging on a substantial federal loan, which would bring tolls down to as low as $2.10 per vehicle, with a discount for daily commuters and existing routes that remain free.
“Now my concern is that since the time they predicted it would cost $2.1 billion, what has the price of materials done? We know the price of concrete and steel have skyrocketed,” he said. “Still, all those numbers depend on us getting a very low interest loan from the federal government, and that’s going to be a tall task, but it is one that I think we absolutely must pursue.”
As of Tuesday afternoon, Cooper had not responded to the letter. But Mobile MPO Director of Transportation Planning Kevin Harrison said the subject will likely be discussed during a joint meeting later this month.
“Nothing is concrete, and if anything changes other than the current path (truck bridge), it will have to be advertised and the MPOs will have to approve it,” Harrison said.
Joint MPO letter to Director John Cooper, Director ALDOT
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