Cities concerned over bridge toll proposals

Daphne, Spanish Fort officials object to charges on Bayway, bridge

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DAPHNE – Officials in the two cities closest to the Interstate 10 Bayway do not support proposals to place tolls on the highway and a planned bridge over the Mobile River.

The Daphne City Council voted unanimously on May 20 to send a statement to the Alabama Department of Transportation opposing the plan to set tolls on the Bayway and bridge of $3 to $6 per trip.

Councilman Joel Coleman said tolls would have a major financial impact on many Daphne residents who commute to Mobile.

As somebody who’s lived here in Daphne for 25 years, the first 20, I worked in Mobile and to put what could be the burden that they’re speculating on our residents of over $2,000 a year is an undue burden to place on our residents,” Coleman said. “I’m not against the bridge I’m against the toll and residents paying the heavy burden.”

Councilman Robin LeJeune said a smaller toll with exemptions for local residents might be one possible way to fund the project, but that he also opposed putting the full charge on Eastern Shore residents.

“I’m definitely for the bridge and also definitely against the toll as far as the local community,” LeJeune said.

ALDOT officials said residents who make more than 20 trips a month could receive a discount on tolls of up to 15 percent.

On the same day that Daphne approved its statement, Spanish Fort City Council members also said they worried about the financial effects the toll would have on local residents and how road plans would affect city traffic. The Spanish Fort Council did not issue a formal statement on the plan, but Mayor Mike McMillan said he has talked to ALDOT Director John Cooper about local concerns over the toll.

The plan calls for the US 90 Causeway and Bankhead Tunnel to remain toll free. McMillan said this will increase traffic on those routes. Because the bypass to the Causeway will be closed under the proposal, all that traffic will come through the center of Spanish Fort.

“Our concern is the adverse effect it will have on our city – our businesses our congestion of traffic,” he said. “Traffic flows will be changing a bit. It will be right through the city if you’re coming up through Daphne and Fairhope unless you get on the toll road, because the bypass will be closed.”

Spanish Fort Councilman Bill Menas said every resident to whom he has spoken has opposed the toll.

It’s a major change to our traffic flow. Not only does it hit our citizens, it changes our traffic. It just makes perfect sense that people are going to say I can go this way for $6 or I can go there and I could avoid it,” he said. “I think it will affect locals a lot more. Locals are going to know. They’re not going to pay $12 a day or whatever it ends up being.”

Menas said the toll would have a much greater financial impact on some residents than the proposed three-mill property tax increase being discussed for Spanish Fort schools.

“We’ve spent all this time on three-mills, which could affect the average person in our city about $100 a year and here’s something where they have very little say-so whatsoever put on them that could affect them $2,000 or $3,000 a year.”

The ALDOT proposal calls for a 215-foot tall, six-lane bridge to be built over the Mobile River to accommodate increasing traffic on I-10. The plan would also include raising the Bayway by 10 feet to protect the roadway from storm surges and increasing the number of lanes to eight.

The work is scheduled to be completed by 2025.

The price of the project has been estimated at $2.1 billion. ALDOT officials said the only way to pay for a project that expensive would be to charge a toll.

The formal comment period on the ALDOT bridge proposal ended Thursday.