There will be no more talk of a bridge for trucks only, which comprise only about 15 percent of the daily traffic crossing Mobile Bay. There will be no more piecemeal plan to build only one span of a two-span bridge, to restripe the existing Bayway to add a third lane traveling each direction, to build a new Bayway, a second span to the bridge, then tie it all together in Mobile and on the Eastern Shore some 25 years from years.
Today, the Eastern Shore and Mobile Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPOs) approved a joint framework for a single-phase bridge project, more than two years after the Eastern Shore MPO killed the state’s original single-phase bridge plan over concerns about tolls.
Afterward, Gov. Kay Ivey requested that local leaders formulate a plan and forward it to the Alabama Department of Transportation. In the years since, attitudes shifted toward a three-phase approach, but the concept was eventually dismantled. Today’s framework indicates local leaders want the state’s full support for a comprehensive project.
In a letter sent to ALDOT Director John Cooper and Gov. Kay Ivey today, the MPOs outlined five major demands:
• A long-term, comprehensive solution now, instead of a piecemeal, phased-in approach.
• Significant state and federal financial contributions. Specifically, at least $250 million from the state, and more than the $125 million in federal funds that have already been awarded to the project.
• No-toll options for passenger vehicles.
• Toll restrictions: A maximum toll of $2.50 for passenger vehicles. Tolls should only be levied on new infrastructure and toll revenue must pay down project debt. Tolling should end when original debt is paid, and any new federal or state funding should be used to pay down project debt in order to reduce tolling cost or duration. Revenue from this project should be used to pay for this project, not for other purposes.
• A publicly owned project. No foreign or domestic corporation should own the infrastructure.
The Eastern Shore MPO unanimously approved the framework at a special called meeting in Daphne this morning, although board member and Spanish Fort Mayor Mike McMillan said he was reluctant because the framework does not include improvements to the Causeway.
“I spoke with [ALDOT Director] John Cooper last week and he assured me he would look at it,” said McMillan, who predicts the land-based route in Spanish Fort municipal limits will gain traffic as construction and tolling begin. “But the bottom line is we have a need, and we can’t keep pushing this down the road. I endorsed with an asterisk that the Causeway will have to be looked at for improvements.”
Daphne Mayor Robin LeJeune said communication with ALDOT and the Mobile MPO has improved since the original bridge project was defeated two years ago and the new framework represents “a solution for both sides of the bay.”
According to a press release from the Mobile MPO today, within the framework’s parameters, the organizations also endorse:
• A comprehensive solution that includes a new, six-lane Mobile River bridge, a new Bayway built to current safety and longevity standards, and appropriate interchanges in Baldwin and Mobile Counties that can be completed in five years.
• No-toll options for passenger vehicles crossing Mobile Bay with the causeway, the Wallace Tunnel, the Bankhead Tunnel, and the Africatown Bridge, at a minimum, remaining toll-free.
• Opportunities for citizens to provide input before the project moves forward.
• Any passenger vehicle should be allowed to use all new infrastructure for a charge of $2.50 or less rather than use the toll-free options if they choose.
“This framework is a major step that allows us to move forward with a long-term solution,” said Fairhope City Councilman Jack Burrell, who chairs the Eastern Shore MPO. “I’m pleased that we will be able to ensure toll-free routes and cut toll rates by more than half from a previous proposal. Ultimately, any final project will need to work for the citizens of Baldwin County, and the Eastern Shore MPO will work to make sure that it does. At this point, doing nothing is not an option we can even consider.”
“I believe this framework is our best chance to move forward with a new Mobile River Bridge and Bayway,” said Mobile Mayor Sandy Stimpson, who serves as the chairman of the Mobile MPO. “It could be a long time before we have another chance like this to build a new bridge and Bayway, and ultimately all parties involved will have to come together on a path forward very soon. Solving our region’s traffic problems is critical to our long-term success, and we can’t afford to miss this opportunity.”
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