The Mobile River Bridge project is one step closer to reality after a regional planning board approved the newest version of the plan, which includes a $15 toll for big trucks.
At a meeting Wednesday morning, the Mobile Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) unanimously approved adding the project back to both the long-range and short-range transportation plans, which will allow the bridge to receive federal funding.
Members of the board chaired by Mobile Mayor Sandy Stimpson and including countywide municipal leaders largely felt the need for a solution to the congestion problem in downtown Mobile and the Eastern Shore of Baldwin County outweighed the negative impacts of the plan.
“I’m not 100 percent happy with the project, but doing nothing is not an option,” Saraland Mayor Howard Rubenstein said. “I think this is a reasonable option to get the project started.”
There was a sense among those present and voting at the meeting that getting the project on the short-range plan before President Joe Biden’s infrastructure bill is approved was the best option. Stimpson alluded to that with reporters following the meeting. He said the vote “leaves a window open” for funding that could have been shut otherwise.
“There could be another window open, but it has to be on the (short-range plan),” Stimpson said. “There could be another window open that wasn’t available six months ago.”
The approval included an amendment to the plan that some on the board and some who raised concerns about the project were excited about. The amendment calls for a future study on the impacts a $2 toll on smaller vehicles could have on the project.
Lou Campomenosi, president of the Common Sense Campaign, told the board that while he was against the planned $6 toll included in the original project’s scope, he would support a more modest $2 toll.
“I think that’s reasonable,” he said.
Like Campomenosi, Baldwin County business owner Kevin Spriggs said he supported the project, but had some concerns. Chief among them, he said, was the later phase restriping of the Bayway that would make the long-time passageway across the Mobile Bay three lanes in each direction.
Priced at $725 million, about half the funding for the project would come from state and federal sources, in the form of Grant Anticipation Revenue Vehicles (GARVEEs) bonds, Calametti said. Around $400 million would come from a fee charged to trucks 46 feet and longer using the bridge. The bridge would “most likely” be designated an I-10 truck route, Calametti said, and smaller vehicles would not be allowed on it.
Existing routes including the Bankhead Tunnel, the Wallace Tunnel, the Bayway and the Causeway will remain toll free.
The timeline for construction for this concept would be 2022 to 2023, as the state would lose out on a $125 million federal grant if the project is not underway by the third quarter of 2022.
Alabama Trucking Association President Mark Colson said while the lobbying group was not against the relieving of congestion among a very important corridor for commerce, he does feel other solutions should be sought, especially ones that don’t involve unfairly targeting truckers and trucking companies.
“Every funding solution should be fair and equitable,” he said. “The plan currently places 100 percent of the burden on truckers.”
Colson warned that court challenges by the trucking industry could delay the project.
This page is available to our local subscribers. Click here to join us today and get the latest local news from local reporters written for local readers. The best deal is found by clicking here. Check it out now.