Most in attendance spoke in support of building a new I-10 bridge over the Mobile River, during the first of two public forums hosted by the Alabama Department of Transportation.
The forum, held Tuesday evening at the Alabama Cruise Terminal, allowed attendees to speak about the project for two minutes each, as well as submit written comments. The forum was part of the process ALDOT has to go through before an Environmental Impact Study can be completed.
Not only were most commenters in favor of the 215-foot bridge and the project that calls for the widening of the Bayway by two lanes each way, most favored the proposed path of the bridge, one that would start at Virginia Street and continue just south of the cruise terminal to north side of the Austal complex.
Preferred alternate B Prime, as it’s being called, would allow the six-lane bridge to connect to the Bayway just east of the Government Street exit.
“B Prime has been vetted for over 10 years,” Build The Bridge Coalition Co-Chairman Mike Lee said. “The maximum positive impact comes through B Prime.”
Jennifer Denson, of Partners for Environmental Progress agreed, saying the organization not only supported the bridge project, but also supported the B Prime location. She said continued gridlock caused by a no build option would waste fuel, increase carbon monoxide emissions and could lead to hazardous material spills on Water St., as trucks carrying dangerous chemicals are routinely detoured around the George Wallace and Bankhead tunnels.
“Careful planning and oversight could eliminate the minimal environmental impacts of the B Prime location,” she said.
Others, like Carol Adams Davis, favored the project, but not the proposed route. Davis said engineers didn’t consider climate change when looking at possible routes. She said the location and height of the bridge and Bayway make the project susceptible to strong winds and storm surge caused by hurricanes. She added that the possibility of future seas level rise could also affect the bridge in its proposed location.
Other speakers were in support of a pedestrian and bike path across the bridge, including Jeff DeQuattro, of the Delta Bike Project who said a bicycle and pedestrian trail would improve the quality of life and the health of Mobilians. He said recreational bikers would use the trail, despite the bridges grade.
Tom Williams, Mayor Pro Tempore of Satsuma, said while he believes the bridge would help entice businesses to locate in Mobile and Baldwin counties, he doesn’t see a need for a bike path. He said he doesn’t think it’s feasible because it would be too costly. He said he crosses over the Cochrane-Africatown Bridge often and doesn’t see cyclists use it.
In addition to safety concerns from not building the bridge, one of the state’s main concerns would be finding funding for the $850 million project, ALDOT Director John Cooper said before the forum.
The agency receives funding for road projects through gasoline taxes and vehicle registration fees. He said ALDOT has a budget for projects between $700 and $800 million a year and won’t have enough money to fund a single project of the bridge’s size.
“That’s not a normal project,” he said. “We don’t normally take bids on projects of that magnitude.”
Tolls could be one way to fund the project and wouldn’t be much different, he said, than using gas tax and registration for the funding, as it all requires the user to pay for it.
“I think tolls could be a meaningful part of the funding,” he said.
If the bridge funding were to come from tolls it would mainly affect users from outside the area, he said, as locals would be able to use tunnels that wouldn’t be tolled. In addition, new tolls are taken electronically. While frequent users would have some sort of pass, the tags of other vehicles would be photographed and a bill would be sent to a corresponding address, Cooper said.
The electronic tolls would keep traffic from slowing down, he said, which is among the concerns of those in favor of the bridge project.