Standing-room crowd of contractors looks to get piece of $2.7 billion I-10 bridge project

Published: Aug. 16, 2022 at 3:59 PM CDT
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MOBILE, Ala. (WALA) - When state transportation officials award contracts for the most expensive project in Alabama history, they won’t just pick the low bidders.

Instead, the Alabama Department of Transportation will evaluate a variety of factors to evaluate proposals for a $2.7 billion bridge and Bayway between Mobile and Baldwin County. On Tuesday, ALDOT hosted an industry forum for contractors, engineering design firms and consultants who might submit bids.

Edwin Perry, the Mobile River bridge project director for ALDOT, said he was pleased with he standing-room turnout at the GulfQuest National Maritime Museum of the Gulf of Mexico.

“It’s more than what we expected,” he said. “You know, originally, we were thinking around 200 (attendees). But I think we got close to 275 sign up for this event.”

Perry told FOX10 News he expects as many as six teams to bid on each of the two phases – a 215-foot cable-stayed bridge over the Mobile River, and a six-lane Interstate 10 Bayway that will replace the current structure. The new Bayway structure will be an average of 10 to 11 feet higher than the current one.

Perry described a give-and-take process. ALDOT will lay out its requirements, and companies bidding on the project will offer their own design proposals. The state will work with the winning companies on pricing.

“We still feel like this is a highly attractive project that we’ll be able to save money through the selected design contractor to be able to make this project happen,” he said.

Fairhope City Council President Jack Burrell, the chairman of the Eastern Shore Metropolitan Planning Organization, said he is excited to see the project finally moving forward after roughly a quarter-century of delays and disagreements.

“Today, it feels like this project is finally is gonna happen,” he said. “You know, reality is setting in. You know, we’re not just sitting around talking about it. We’re talking to the people who are actually going to perform the work and giving them the details.”

Mobile-area political and business leaders never have doubted the need to add capacity to the Bayway and relieve bottlenecks that routinely snarl traffic at the Wallace Tunnel. But it has taken an entire generation to build consensus on a plan that satisfies competing commercial concerns along the waterfront and accounts for the mammoth cost.

Opposition to tolls derailed an ALDOT-sponsored plan in 2019, but the Eastern Shore MPO and its counterpart in Mobile voted last month to greenlight the current iteration of the plan. Officials still plan to rely on tolling – to the tune of more than $1 billion. But the Wallace Tunnel would remain toll-free and the rates would be lower for the Bayway and bridge – $2.50 per trip for passenger cars that have a transponder, and $40 a month for those who buy an ALGO pass. Burrell reiterated the commitment to keeping rates at those levels for the duration of the project and repealing them, altogether, once the state pays back the borrowed money.

“We put that in our framework,” he said. “We said the max $2.50 toll is what we had to have. You can get that with the ALGO pass, or less if you buy a monthly pass. It could come out to about 87 cents a trip.”

Several steps remain before construction, currently slated for the latter part of next year, can begin. And that means potential hurdles, as well. Burrell pointed to rising interest rates.

“Let’s hope that they stay steady,” he said. “So you know, barring some, you know, upheaval in the financial markets, I don’t see anything really stopping it.”

Perry said the state also must complete a tolling and revenue study to demonstrate that the levies will produce enough money to fill in the gaps left after state and federal funding.

“We think the project will be able to be financed through the tolls,” he said. “We’re also working with the grant programs that are available with the new infrastructure bill. And the more grants we’re able to get through that will only mean we’ll have to less rely on tolling.”


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