The uproar over a $6 segmented toll along a proposed Interstate 10 Mobile River Bridge and Bayway project may have been premature.
Bayou la Batre Mayor Terry Downey said he was “taken aback” when Alabama Department of Transportation (ALDOT) Director John Cooper told members of Mobile’s Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) the agency had been considering a $2 to $3 toll for use of the entire project, instead of a higher toll.
“I was surprised by what was said,” Downey, an MPO member, said. “I’m trying to be open-minded.”
Like many others, Downey said he understood the toll would be set at $6, a price he couldn’t support.
“A $6 toll was out of the question,” Downey said. “I didn’t want to see $6 put on people trying to make a living.”
The Mobile MPO has tabled a vote to add the project to the area’s transportation improvement plan (TIP). At the time Downey would’ve voted “no,” and now he said he still has concerns, if the vote is brought back up.
“To ask me to vote for something, don’t tell me what the [toll] might be,” he said. “I can’t vote for an open-ended thing.”
Mobile Mayor Sandy Stimpson, MPO chairman, said he was less surprised by Cooper’s announcement. In monthly discussions with ALDOT and designers Thompson Engineering, Stimpson said the group was leaning toward a cheaper toll.
“I was not surprised,” Stimpson said. “It just never became a public issue.”
Mobile County Commissioner Jerry Carl said he opposes any toll amount at this point. He said he believes the project can be funded without placing a user fee on it.
While Mobile tabled the issue, the Eastern Shore MPO, which is responsible for roughly half of the project, voted to remove it from TIP consideration. It is unclear what the Eastern Shore MPO’s next move might be, but there are MPO meetings on both sides of the bay on Wednesday, Jan. 22.
At a closed-door meeting in early December, local leaders, including Carl, met to discuss the project going forward. The bulk of the discussions at that time revolved around a less-costly alternative. The meeting was in response to Gov. Kay Ivey calling the project “dead” in September. The group had sought an alternative that didn’t raise the current Bayway, which doubled the initial cost of the entire project.
ALDOT officials were unable to comment by press time.
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