Bayway plans a step forward

Posted 3/25/21

A trucks-only bridge over the Mobile River and repainting the lines on the Bayway to add a third lane each way might not be the concept some had in mind when improved access across Mobile Bay was …

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Bayway plans a step forward

Posted

A trucks-only bridge over the Mobile River and repainting the lines on the Bayway to add a third lane each way might not be the concept some had in mind when improved access across Mobile Bay was proposed several years ago.

The fact, announced this week, that state and local officials agree on key concepts about that access and will work to provide it is progress, however.

At a press conference at the 5 Rivers Delta Resource Center on Monday, members of the Metropolitan Planning Organizations for the Eastern Shore and Mobile announced some of those concepts.

One addressed a major concern for residents and businesses for the last several years – tolls. The proposal announced Monday calls for all existing highways across Mobile Bay to remain toll free. In 2019, the Alabama Department of Transportation announced plans to add a toll to the Bayway and tunnel as part of the plan to pay for a project expected to cost more than $2 billion.

Under the new plan, expected to cost about $725 million, commuters, tourists and others will be able to cross the bay as they now do, without an additional fee.

The plan does call for a toll on the new bridge. That toll and that bridge would only be for trucks at least 46 feel long. The road markings designating traffic lanes would also be repainted on the Bayway to add a third lane in each direction.

Both of these projects will accomplish the much-needed task of reducing congestion for traffic crossing Mobile Bay. Both would also make use of $125 million in federal funding secured for the project by Sen. Richard Shelby, before that money is redirected elsewhere.

Some may not consider this a perfect solution. Trucking companies may object to a toll of $10 to $15. Eventually, a new route to supplement the Bayway and Wallace Tunnel will be needed. That time to build again, and pay again, could come sooner than we might like.

By the time the current project is complete in a few years, the existing tunnel and elevated highway will be more than 50 years old. Around the time they were begun, Baldwin County had a population of 59,382 in the 1970 census. Today, that number is more than 220,000.

The public will have a chance to discuss all these plans before work begins. Officials have promised public hearings and a public comment period. Plans are not complete, and changes could be made. Certainly, more work will be needed.

But the fact that all agreed this week that work needs to be done is a good step forward.