A new Interstate 10 bridge project over the Mobile River could have a statewide economic benefit of $1.5 billion.
Mike Lee, co-chair of the Build the I-10 Bridge Coalition, released the findings of a study done by Dr. Donald Epley, of the University of South Alabama’s Center for Real Estate and Economic Development, during a breakfast meeting of the Coastal Alabama Partnership Friday.
Epley’s findings state that Mobile could see a benefit of 10,301 new jobs and $22.4 million in new tax revenue during the construction process of the 215-foot high, $858 million bridge project meant to alleviate congestion through the Wallace Tunnel.
The state would see 18,274 new jobs and $41 million in new tax revenue. The output includes new sales activity, new jobs, fiscal impact, additional income earned by new employees and value added by local businesses, Lee said in his presentation.
The Alabama Department of Transportation recently released a draft environmental impact study on the project, which will make way for two public meetings on the subject, Lee said. The first will take place at the Alabama Cruise Terminal on Tuesday, Sept. 23 from 4-8 p.m. The second will be in Spanish Fort at the Five Rivers Resource Center on the causeway on Monday, Sept. 29.
A public comment portion will follow the meetings, Lee said, and will last until Nov. 7. From there, if the decision to build is approved, a design and engineering portion could take up to two years before construction would begin, Lee said. The construction of the bridge could last four to six years, but would allow the state to secure funding for it.
U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne said tolls have been considered as a source of funding for the project, but he added that it would be difficult because it would require tolling on all available options across the river, and would be a tough sale to citizens.
“In order to go through one of those things you have to slow down,” Byrne said of tolls. “I’m not saying it’s an insuperable issue, but it’s an issue.”
He said finding funding for the new bridge would be the next step in the process for him. Byrne said the issue is a “subset of a much larger issue” on the federal level in that the gas tax no longer covers all of the infrastructure needs of the Interstate highway system.
“I’m going to birddog it on my end, but I can’t do it on my own,” Byrne said. “We have to do this as a team.”
The preferred route for the project connects to I-10 at Virginia Street to just south of the cruise terminal and just north of Austal. The six-lane bridge will connect to the Bayway just east of the Government Street exit and two lanes in each direction will be added to the Bayway.
The project is meant to help the area avoid future travel problems caused by infrastructure that’s not designed for the amount of vehicles it currently handles and will need to handle in the future. For instance, Lee said the Wallace Tunnel was built for 55,000 vehicles daily, a mark that was reached in the 1990s. The tunnel now sees an average of 75,000 vehicles per day and will see about 100,000 daily vehicles by the time the bridge is built.
“We’ll be experiencing July 4th level traffic by the time the bridge opens,” Lee said.
Lee said the new bridge would also lead to a greater quality of life and a better flow of commerce.
The group is currently gathering support letters for the project, which will be added during the comment portion. Currently, Lee said the organization has about 90 support letters.