More than two a day: Accidents jam overloaded Bayway, Wallace Tunnel
Transportation officials say new bridge should alleviate wrecks while easing traffic flow
MOBILE, Ala. (WALA) - As traffic volumes on the overloaded Interstate 10 Bayway and Wallace Tunnel have increased, so too have accidents.
Data from the Alabama Department of Transportation show wrecks are both frequent and increasingly common. In 2010, ALDOT recorded 32 crashes at the tunnel. By last year, that number was nearly 10 times higher – 317. Most were two-vehicle accidents.
The nine-mile stretch of I-10 from the Daphne exit across the Bayway to the Water Street exit just west of the tunnel saw 766 crashes last year. That’s an average of more than two every day. ALDOT officials say each wreck causes 2½ hours of traffic backup, on average.
Tony Harris, an ALDOT spokesman, said congestion is not the only cause. But he noted that the Wallace Tunnel regularly has more than twice as many vehicles as the 35,000 per day it was designed to handle.
“We’re seeing more crashes due to distracted driving and texting while driving,” he told FOX10 News. “But the congestion is definitely a big factor.”
The ALDOT statistics show that 29 people suffered injuries in tunnel wrecks last year, and no one died.
“There weren’t a lot of fatalities and serious injuries,” Harris said. “That’s another indication that this is due to congestion.”
That’s where the planned bridge project comes in.
The state plans to build a toll bridge over the Mobile River with three lanes in either direction, connecting to a new six-lane Bayway. That plus interchange improvements are projected to cost $2.7 billion.
Harris said the additional toll lanes – the Causeway and tunnels will remain free – should reduce traffic jams and wrecks.
“We believe that extra capacity will translate into fewer accidents,” he said.
Mobile Mayor Sandy Stimpson has a bird’s-eye view of those wrecks from the top floor of Government Plaza.
“Keep in mind, when I look out my window to the south, I see I-10 coming into the tunnel,” he said last week after the Mobile Metropolitan Planning Organization voted to advance the project. “And I don’t know whether it’s a bottleneck because of making the curve, but I can almost guarantee you that every week, I’m seeing it backed up of a traffic accident in the tunnel. And I can hear the sirens coming.”
Fairhope resident Christopher Payne said he hopes the project works.
“I think it will help with traffic, for sure,” he said. “‘Cause, I mean, there’s a lot of wrecks that happen through that tunnel and all, because of that traffic.”
Stimpson agreed: “It will definitely relieve the tunnel of those kind of challenges.”
This project has been talked about for decades and now is closer than it’s ever been. Harris said it will formally be put in the state’s transportation improvement plan, as early as next week. ALDOT will host a forum in Mobile on Aug. 16 with engineering firm and contractors that might bid on the project.
Harris said the formal request for proposals to contractors to bid likely will go out in the fall. After that, the state will go to the bond market late this year or early next year to borrow the money needed to complete the project. Construction could start late next year and last five years.
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