FAIRHOPE – While plans are moving forward for a truck bridge and adding a third lane to the current Interstate 10 Bayway, some officials said more work is needed to keep up with growth and increasing traffic.
In March, members of the Metropolitan Planning Organizations of Mobile and the Eastern Shore announced proposals for a new trucks-only toll bridge over the Mobile River and repainting the lines on the Bayway to add a third lane in each direction. Officials said the $725-million proposal would be the first of three phases to increase traffic capacity that would also include another bridge in the future and a larger highway across Mobile Bay.
On Wednesday, April 15, members of the Eastern Shore MPO said plans for all three phases need to move forward as soon as possible. County Commissioner Joe Davis said the population is growing too fast to wait.
“Here are my concerns,” Davis said. “If they started building that bridge today, it will take four years for it. The design and financing to me need to start now and if we need to make this. If it can't be or should 't be an addendum to the bridge, to me it needs to be its own stand-alone project.”
“Look at how much traffic we've increased and how much prosperity we've had in the last four years with COVID and a hurricane. We're still growing like crazy, so being able to get this moving as quickly as we can to me is vital for us to maintain this momentum that we have,” Davis added.
Fairhope City Council President Jack Burrell, chairman of the MPO, said the original plan for a new bridge and Bayway was rejected due to local concerns about proposed tolls. State officials said the tolls could be as high was $6 for each one-way trip by passenger car.
Burrell said he felt that if federal funding could be acquired at a low interest rate and the project was not done as a public-private partnership, with a private company seeking a profit in the work, the bridge could be built with a toll of about $2 for cars.
He said that if the $125 million in state funding planned for the current first phase and the $250 million in federal funding was applied to the $2.1 billion estimated cost of all three phases, the remaining costs would be about $1.75 billion.
If that cost was financed for 20 years at about 0.75 percent interest, the cost would be about $92.9 million a year. With about 155,000 vehicles crossing the bay each day, the cost could be paid with a toll of about $2 or $2.25 for cars and $10 for commercial trucks.
He said current routes across the bay, including the Causeway, Bayway and Wallace Tunnel would have to remain untolled. He said a low toll would still attract users even if a free alternative was available.
“If the toll was low enough, I think the only people getting off the expressway might be people going to downtown Mobile or coming from downtown Mobile,” Burrell said. “If you're coming from west Mobile, you're not going to go through the tunnel and go through stop lights. You're just going to pay the toll if it's a low toll because time is money.”
The MPO Policy Board is scheduled to vote Wednesday, April 28, on asking that the Alabama Department of Transportation consider moving forward on all phases.
Traffic congestion east of the Bayway is also a concern. The MPO has proposed expanding I-10 to three lanes in each direction east from Exit 35 in Daphne.
Daphne Mayor Robin LeJeune said access across Mobile Bay needs to improve, but the highway in Baldwin County also needs expansion.
“I think we have to think long-term about this and go ahead,” LeJeune said. “We've got the expansion of I-10 already on the list. I think we need to make that in conjunction with anything, the bridge, whatever we do. If we can't get. If it's ideal to go ahead and do the Bayway too, as they're building Phase 2 they'll have a worse bottleneck as they open that up.”
Fairhope Mayor Sherry Sullivan also said work needs to move forward to improve the interstate all the way across the area.
“I would like to see like Mayor LeJeune for us to be able to every phase of it in the beginning and not just phase the project because we need the bridge now,” Sullivan said.
Spanish Fort Mayor Mike McMillan said expanding the Bayway without increasing capacity in Baldwin County would create major traffic backups on the Eastern Shore.
“It all makes sense. We all know the bottleneck that it's going to create if we don't,” McMillan said. “We all know what we face every day now. Four years from now, it will be just more fun than I want to deal with.”