At this point it seems pretty obvious that for a number of reasons the Feds need to get the lead out on getting an I-10 bridge built across the Mobile River.
Most of those reasons involve massive traffic jams, particularly on Friday evenings or when a truckload of cattle has turned over in the Wallace Tunnel. Don’t laugh, it’ll happen again soon. Ancillary to those reasons are the ability to get to the beach in under two hours and the opportunity to drive over a really tall bridge.
Last week I wrote about some big ideas that won’t cost a lot of money. Here’s one that will cost about the same as the gross national product of Uruguay. (Editor’s note: check and see if there’s still a Uruguay.)
Since this bridge idea first started being kicked around for real in the ‘90s, its price has only gone up to roughly $850 million, and the urgency has only increased. George Wallace’s tube was built to handle 50,000 cars a day and right now it’s averaging 75,000, and that’s only expected to get worse. This means it’s either a great time to open a taco stand at the mouth of the tunnel or to build this damn bridge.
The Federal Highway Administration was initially supposed to deliver an environmental impact report by the beginning of July, but that didn’t happen until the moment this column went to print. The environmental shock caused by what will be a truly massive edifice has been a major harsher of our bridge buzz for some years.
Some 14 initial routes have been whittled down to three at this point, all of which would head through the downtown area to some extent. There had been suggested routes taking the bridge far north of downtown and the maritime industry, but they weren’t financially realistic. So the draft environmental impact statement will determine which one will leave the smallest footprint on both the environment and the businesses along the river.
But as the feds kept jacking around on getting the statement out, further delaying things, Congressman Bradley Byrne is one who’s fed up. He’s ready to get up in someone’s grill about it, too.
“I am going to state that to the Secretary of Transportation to his face so they can hear what their ineptitude is doing to my ongoing support to their program,” he said before wrestling a DOT bureaucrat in Washington to the ground and giving him a wedgie. (OK, that wrestling part may have been a dream sequence but the quote is accurate.)
There are some pretty obvious reasons for getting this project going as quickly as possible. Even if we started today it might take a decade or longer before the first lovelorn guy is able to toss himself into the river from 200 feet up. Just imagine how – especially if our economic development efforts are as successful as hoped – jammed up the GWT is going to be every day in 10 years.
If you’re living across the bay you’re going to need something akin to George Jetson’s flying car that turns into a briefcase just to be sure you’ll make it home for breakfast the next day. Even if you had one though, any time your daughter Judy borrowed it so she could go park out on a dead end road with her boyfriend Jet Screamer, you’d be back in the Ford Escort. That Judy’s trouble by the way.
There are other reasons to get the bridge project going besides strictly traffic improvement. A main one is confusion. So many people are confused by Mobile having two tunnels. Generally when giving directions you eventually have to abandon their actual names and refer to them as the “big tunnel” and the “little tunnel.”
I actually know a poor addled soul who became so confused one night – absolutely true story – that he drove through the Wallace from the Causeway back into town, worried he was going through the wrong tunnel, got off I-10, turned around on Water Street, got back up on I-10, went through GWT again and got off on the Causeway to go back through the Bankhead.
Needless to say this fellow probably wasn’t rushing home to split the atom, but there is a degree of confusion that would be eliminated by a bridge that literally towers over downtown. “Yeah, go over the bridge. It’s right there.”
Another benefit of the bridge is that it would be HUGE. Mobile’s skyline would immediately – and by that I mean over 10 years – grow up. This bridge might even be bigger than the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. It’d be worth a trip out there just to ride the trolley and strike up conversations about the Golden Gate and wait until a local was bursting with pride then say, “Yeah it’s nice, but Mobile’s is bigger.” Hit ‘em with a “we also had the first Mardi Gras” then jump off the trolley before they start blabbering about sourdough bread.
If the bridge is done properly, it should be impressive and memorable – particularly if we name it something cool. We’d have to fight the native Alabamian impulse to name anything new after a crusty old politician. (If it’s named the Richard Shelby Bridge I vow never to drive across it!)
Azalea Skyway or Kenny Stabler Bridge jump to mind. The latter is just so everyone will call it “The Snake.” Or Bear Bryant Bridge. Great alliteration and also the ability to say “I took The Bear and got there in half the time.”
I know traffic relief is the main goal here, but the ideas of having biking and walking paths on such a big ol’ bridge would make it a draw to locals and visitors alike. The view would be amazing.
And finally there would be a fitting place for Alan Sealls to strap himself during a hurricane so he could offer a first-hand account of being hammered by 150 mph winds while 200 feet off the ground as he’s always wanted. That alone makes this a must.
So lets get with it Feds. Get the bridge started. Keep screwing around and by the time it’s finished we may all have Jetsons cars and it’ll just be a really nice fishing pier.
THE GADFLY BY LAURA RASMUSSEN
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