U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx told a group of Mobile business leaders Monday he and his office support a new Interstate 10 bridge project and gave examples of funding sources.
One avenue of “creative financing” would be a Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act loan, Foxx told the group at a meeting at the Mobile Area Chamber of Commerce Thursday morning.
A TIFIA loan, which is typically used for a project of regional or national significance, would allow the government to loan a substantial chunk of the money for the project at a low rate, Foxx said. Repayment wouldn’t start until the project, which is about $850 million, is nearly complete and repayment would take place over 35 years.
The TIFIA program has been used to help fund nine projects throughout the U.S. and in the territory in Puerto Rico. The list of projects includes phase one of Louisiana 1, which is highway project worth about $371 million. That portion of the project, which is now completed, used $122 million in TIFIA assistance, according to the Federal Highway Administration.
Foxx said his office would also help push the project forward by expediting the permitting process for the project. For example, he told the group, they used a similar system for a project on the Tappan Zee bridge in New York. He said they were able to take a five-year permitting process and whittle it down to 18 months.
“I’m excited about the process and the community consensus,” Foxx said. “We will work with you to move the project forward.”
Foxx said reluctance to invest in the country’s aging infrastructure was making it tough to plan for and fund large-scale projects. He said the last three highway bills passed included funding for ten months, two months and three months.
“The uncertainty is choking our country,” he said. “It’s acting as a governor for our ability for grow economically.”
He said he supports a six-year plan for funding, which the U.S. House of Representatives will decide on when they return from break. He said the bill would help close a $15 billion gap in funding and could also help the department fund projects like the I-10 bridge.
“Bill or no bill, I’m going to be fighting for you to get this project done,” he said.
Mike Lee, co-chairman of the Build the I-10 Bridge Coalition, said he was encouraged after listening to Foxx speak. He said the department staff has been very helpful throughout the process.
“I think it has been valuable to get support support and advice to do this,” Lee said.
As for the project itself, Jimmy Shumock of Thompson Engineering said the goal for design and further environmental study on the project is set at 18 to 24 months. He said as the “mega project” moves forward there will be a lot of collaboration and inclusion of the community.
“This will not be done in a vacuum,” Shumock said. “It can’t be.”