MPO approves first phase of bridge plan

Members still looking for ways to start rest of project


DAPHNE – The first phase of work to improve Interstate 10 traffic across Mobile Bay has approval from both sides of the bay, but Baldwin officials said they will continue looking for funding to start the other phases of the project as soon as possible.

The Eastern Shore Metropolitan Planning Organization voted Wednesday, June 9, to add a toll bridge for trucks over the Mobile River and restriping the Interstate 10 Bayway to its current long-range and immediate transportation plans.

Members of the MPO voted unanimously to add the first phase of the project to both the Long-Range Transportation Plan, which includes unfunded items that will be needed in the future, and the Transportation Improvement Plan. Projects on the TIP have funding sources listed and are planned to move forward.

The bridge is expected to cost $665 million, according to MPO reports. Funding for the project includes a $125 million federal grant, $250 million from the state and about $300 million expected to come from tolls on trucks crossing the bridge. Planners will also study how much money could come from passenger cars using the bridge and paying a toll.

The second phase of the project, another bridge over the Mobile River was improvements to the Wallace Tunnel interchange, is expected to cost $500 million. The third phase includes replacement of the I-10 Bayway. That phase is estimated to cost $1.2 billion, according to MPO reports.

Fairhope Mayor Sherry Sullivan, an MPO member, said putting the bridge project on the TIP will allow planning to start on improving traffic flow over the bay. She said members are still committed to getting the rest of the work done as soon as possible.

“One thing that concerns me is that we are only approving Phase 1, and I just want to clarify that, while I’m glad to get this back on the TIP, because I think it’s important for us to move forward and find funding for this bridge, that I would like to see us be able to explore all options, all phases of the bridge, not just Phase 1,” Sullivan said. “While I’m happy to move this forward, I still want to make sure that in the scope of this, that we are looking at the overall project.”

The Mobile MPO voted June 2 to place the first phase of the project on its TIP.

Matt Ericksen, division engineer with the Alabama Department of Transportation, said that with the first phase approved on both TIPs, ALDOT will now start working on plans for the project.

“The first order of business when we get started again is to do a traffic and revenue study,” Ericksen. When we do that, we’ll look at the different options, what vehicles will be using the Mobile River bridge and what revenue would be able to come in for the different phases. At that point, we’ll be able to proceed with the federal funding and, to be on the TIP, it has to be fiscally constrained and all the funding has to be identified to move it on the TIP.”

He said that if more money is found for the project, parts of the other phases could be added as well.

“As we look at the different options available to us with the different toll scenarios, there may be a chance for us to identify the additional funding to move Phase 2 onto the TIP, but we won’t know that until we do the traffic and revenue study so that’s why just Phase 1 at this point is on the TIP because funding has been identified,” he said.

Audience members said the bridge is needed, but some questioned parts of the proposal.

Mark Colson, president of the Alabama Trucking Association, said commercial trucks should not have to pay most of the costs of the first phase.

“The trucking industry in Alabama is for finding a solution on how to pay for this project. We’re for being a part of that solution. However, I want you to know that we don’t believe that it’s fair or equitable or efficient for 10 percent of the traffic to pay for 100 percent of the project,” Colson said. “Under the current plan or the current concept, the trucking industry is being asked to put up the same amount of money as the state and federal government combined. I’m not sure that that’s a fair proposal.”

Dr. Lew Campomenosi said he supported the project, but worried that changing the lane stripes on the Bayway to add a third lane going each way would not be safe.

“I do think that with fog and rain on this Bayway, you’re asking for problems,” he said.

Campomenosi helped organize opposition to the first toll bridge project before the MPO removed that plan from its TIP in 2019. He said he could support the current plan that allows existing routes, including the Wallace Tunnel and Bayway, to be used without tolls.

“I completely support what everyone has said so far. As part of the anti-toll movement, I think that we have a responsibility to look at this objectively and I think that we have done that,” Campomenosi said. “We’ve tried to make accommodations to the new reality that’s there.”

County Commissioner Joe Davis, an MPO member, said he was also concerned about the safety of adding additional lanes to the existing Bayway bridges.

Visualize one of our trucker’s 18-wheelers here that is that wide with mirrors on each side and then two pretty good-sized SUVs and how big they are with mirrors changing the striping from two to three scares me to death because there will be virtually no room to make a mistake and we all know that too many of us do other things while we’re driving and mistakes can and will happen,” Davis said.