Fury over I-10 bridge proposal has receded, public comments suggest

2019 version got more than four times as many comments; residents still have time to weigh in
Published: Jul. 14, 2022 at 4:51 PM CDT
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MOBILE, Ala. (WALA) - Fewer than 60 people so far have submitted public comments about a resurrected proposal to build toll bridge over the Mobile River, with sentiments largely split over the $2.7 billion project.

That is well below engagement in 2019, when intense public opposition led to more than four times as many public comments – mostly in opposition.

The Mobile Metropolitan Planning Organization has received 53 public comments so far, with slightly more people against than for, and a handful simply asking questions about the details. Just five people have submitted comments in Baldwin County. That compares to 160 comments in Mobile and 80 in Baldwin in 2019.

“2019, we had a lot more public comments. We a lot more opposition,” said Kevin Harrison, the director of transportation at the South Alabama Regional Planning Commission, which oversees and Mobile MPO. “Social media, I think, played a part of that. But this past July 4th weekend, with the stand-stilled traffic, I think played a role in it, also. People are just tired of sitting on the Bayway.”

People have until Friday at 5 p.m. to submit comments that will be included in materials given to the MPO members in Mobile and Baldwin who will take key votes on July 27. Harrison said the MPO will continue to receive feedback up to the vote, but the comments after Friday will not be included in the documents. Mobile County residents can comment here, while Baldwin County residents can weigh in here.

The latest iteration of the plan calls for a new, higher Bayway with three lanes in either direction replacing the current structure and connecting to a six-lane cable-stayed bridge across the Mobile River. Construction would begin next year and last five years, and then the current Bayway would be torn down.

Lower tolls, free options

In 2019, the Alabama Department of Transportation pushed a plan that would have included tolls high as $6 per trip, with a frequent-user option costing $90. A FOX10 news investigation determined it would exceed any other state or local tax that average commuters pay.

Intense and widespread public opposition prompted the MPOs in Mobile and Baldwin to pull the project off their Transportation Improvement Plans, making the project ineligible for federal funding. Gov. Kay Ivey made it official in August of that year.

The current proposal would toll at lower rates – $5.50 for each trip for cars without transponders, and $2.50 for cars that do have the devices. A $40 monthly pass would allow unlimited use. And the Causeway and two exiting tunnels would remain free, unlike the 2019 version in which drivers would have had to pay a toll to use the Wallace Tunnel.

Still, many of the people against the plan, take an absolutive position in tolls.

“No tolls on public roads,” one person wrote. “Not $1. Not 25 cents. The road is part of the interstate system and designed to move military equipment. I vote. I’m 64 and young enough to be around for many elections.”

Wrote another: “This is robbery. Charging 5.50 to cross a bridge and then 2.50??? We are already living in inflation and the prices are hard enough to live buying food and gas and here ya’ll come pressing us down with a toll? Shame, Shame I say! NO TOLLS! AT ALL! We the people do NOT consent to this down pressing of us and robbing us blind!”

But roughly nearly as many people submitted comments supporting the project.

“I support the I-10 Mobile River Bridge & Bayway Project. I have no problem with the $2.50 toll fee as long as all the current infrastructure connecting Mobile & Baldwin County remains intact. This gives drivers a choice of paying a nominal fee to (presumably) cross Mobile Bay quicker.”

Another wrote: “I believe the new proposal with the tolls are a great compromise as well as keeping the tunnels free. Good work, please ignore the naysayers!”

$1 per trip ‘a lot more palatable’

Harrison said a monthly pass costing less than half of the 2019 proposal is a comparative bargain.

“I think $1 a trip is a lot more palatable. … It’s a necessary evil in order to fund the bridge,” he said. “The important thing right now is that we get this project into the plans.”

Kevin Spriggs, a Baldwin County gas station owner who helped lead the opposition three years ago, said he thinks the proposed toll rates are reasonable.

“I think people do accept that something has to be done. … I don’t like tolls either,” he said. “But then again, you have to look at the development of a local economy. There is a price that is worth paying to get that bridge replaced.”

But Spriggs said he worries the state’s contribution of less than 10 percent of the $2.7 billion price tag will not be enough.

“The state coming in at $250 million, that won’t get the project financed,” he said. “We’re not talking reality until the state comes up with more money.”

Drivers gassing up Thursday in Tillman’s Corner were split. Grand Bay resident Larry Crawley opposed the 2019 plan but said he thinks the current version is acceptable.

“I’m totally 100 percent for it … “because of the traffic backup every Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday, going both ways,” he said. “It’s just not fair to everybody else in the country. Kind of gives Alabama a bad stigma.”

Foley resident Britt Peterson did not live in the area during the 2019 bridge debate. But she said that as a daily commuter to Mobile, even the less expensive tolls would hurt.

“It’d be a very big bite,” she said. “Gas prices are already high enough, and then you add that to it, it’s gonna make it very difficult.”

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