Officials with local metropolitan planning organizations (MPOs) and the Alabama Department of Transportation (ALDOT) announced Monday, March 22 a cheaper plan for an Interstate 10 trucks-only bridge over the Mobile River.
The idea, introduced by Mobile Mayor Sandy Stimpson, Fairhope City Council President Jack Burrell, U.S. Rep. Jerry Carl and former ALDOT Division Engineer Vince Calametti, aims to build a truck-only, cable-stayed bridge and to restripe the existing Bayway with three lanes in each direction instead of two.
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.
“The fee will be less than half the proposed fee included in the previous plan,” he said. “It is estimated between $10 and $15. It won’t be more than $15.”
The length stipulation, Calametti said, would prevent smaller trucks, like those used for local deliveries, from being impacted. It’s too early to speculate, he said, if the toll would ever sunset. That would be determined at a later date.
Existing routes including the Bankhead Tunnel, the Wallace Tunnel, the Bayway and the Causeway will remain toll free, Calametti said.
By removing large trucks from the Wallace Tunnel, Calametti said, commute time could be cut by 60 to 90 minutes during peak travel time. Trucks will also be diverted from the Cochrane Africatown Bridge, he said. The trucks would use the so-called “truck bridge” instead.
The increase from four lanes to six lanes on the Bayway is designed to increase efficiency by some 40 percent, also during peak times, Calametti said. While the new lanes would eat up the shoulders that currently exist on the Bayway, Calametti said ALDOT would double the size of its emergency response team, stationing trucks in both Baldwin County and Mobile County. In addition, turnarounds would be added to allow distressed travelers to pull over if need be.
The phased approach of the project would also see a second bridge and a new Bayway built under later phases, Calametti said. Unlike the last proposal, this project would be controlled completely by the state and would not be a public-private partnership.
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. This was a point Stimpson, who is chairman of the Mobile MPO, and Burrell, chairman of the Eastern Shore MPO, said was important. It was one of three points they made in discussions with Gov. Kay Ivey in January about keeping the project alive.
“No. 1, it had to reduce congestion,” Burrell said. “No. 2, it had to protect the $125 million federal grant and No. 3, it needed to leave all the existing routes untolled. The MPO response has been very, very favorable.”
Stimpson reiterated the importance of keeping the large federal grant active.
“Protecting the $125 million grant is critically important,” he said. “We need to demonstrate to the federal government that there’s local support or the federal government will redirect the funds.”
The new project, Stimpson said, would help move passengers and commerce across the bay more quickly and more efficiently, which would help secure more jobs and opportunities in the area.
“We believe this plan is a good, solid plan,” he said. “There will be no tolls for cars and small trucks.”
Carl, who was elected to Congress in November, told the crowd gathered for a press conference leaders he has spoken with in Washington, D.C. — specifically those who’ve been trapped on the Bayway — understand the need for a bridge, as does local leadership.
“Part of my campaign rhetoric was focused on the bridge,” he said. “Everyone agrees the bridge is needed.”
The first step for the new project would be to gain the approval of both the Mobile and Eastern Shore MPOs, Calametti said. Following approval by the boards, ALDOT would begin to hold public hearings.
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