Toll opponents win battle as Gov. Ivey says ‘This project is dead’

Gov. Ivey: "No pathway forward" and bridge project is dead
Gov. Ivey: "No pathway forward" and bridge project is dead(WALA)
Updated: Aug. 28, 2019 at 3:27 PM CDT
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

BALDWIN COUNTY, Ala. (WALA) -- The Mobile River and Bayway project, after months of controversy over tolls, is finished.

The Eastern Shore Metropolitan Planning Organization put the final stake in the plan with a vote Wednesday to remove the project from its Transportation Improvement Plan through the year 2023. Following a similar action last week by the Mobile Metropolitan Planning Organization, the move makes the project ineligible for federal funds and loan guarantees.

Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey wasted no time canceling an October meeting of the Alabama Toll Road, Bridge, and Tunnel Authority and declaring the project dead.

“With the action taken today, there is no pathway forward, and this project is dead,” she said in a statement. “Moreover, without a project, there is no need for a meeting on October 7. I am thereby cancelling the Toll Road, Bridge and Tunnel Authority meeting.”

Before the meeting, Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey sent a letter to Mobile Mayor Sandy Stimpson and Daphne Mayor Dane Haygood. Ivey pledged to give local officials a greater say in the plan.

The state’s plan called for tolls of up to $6 for a one-way trip – plus a 50 percent surcharge for drivers who do not have transponder devices in their vehicles. Drivers making more than four trips a month and those who bought monthly passes would have gotten discounts.

The project had been in the works in one form or another for more than 20 years. It took that long for state authorities and local officials to get on the same page about design and exact location of the bridge. Finally, it was all systems go.

But as the project cost ballooned to $2.1 billion and the Alabama Department of Transportation came out with plan to pay for the project with tolls, Ivey found herself staring down a full-fledged revolt.

The governor tried in recent weeks to keep the plan on track. But after Wednesday’s vote by the Eastern Shore Metropolitan Planning Organization to pull the project from its Transportation Improvement Plan, she’d finally had enough. Within minutes, she sent out her statement canceling a planned meeting of the Toll Road, Bridge, and Tunnel Authority.

State auditor Jim Zeigler took a victory lap.

“When we first started, three months ago, people would tell me, ‘You’re wasting your time. This is a done deal. This is gonna to be rammed down our throats like the gasoline tax increase,’” said Zeigler, who organized a Facebook group opposing tolls. “But fortunately, I and 54,000 other people did not listen to that. And now, that done deal, is a dead deal.”

Not everyone is happy to see the project die, even if they opposed the tolls. State Sen. Chris Elliott (R-Daphne) noted how fast the governor pulled the plug after today’s vote.

“That’s pretty disappointing that it comes out that quickly. I mean, a pre-canned response from somebody who just, you know, hours before was saying they wanted to work to resolve this,” he told FOX10 News. “I mean, I think it shows you, really, the, what we were seeing from the governor’s office over the last couple of weeks and months.”

Zeigler said there is no reason why ALDOT could not come back with a brand-new plan that leaves the Bayway expansion to another day and vastly cuts the cost.

“There may be a way to build a basic bridge,” he said. “Pay for it with already-existing funds, and fix the Wallace Tunnel.”

But for the foreseeable future, dreams of a new bridge seem to have evaporated.

FOX10 News reporter Michael Warrick contributed to this report.