Alabama state transportation leaders have put out what they call the first edition of a "Myth Busters" Email.

The goal:  to address what they call rumors and misinformation regarding the Mobile River Bridge project.

Among the concerns bridge officials say they are hearing the most is there shouldn't be a toll.

But the Myth Busters Email says, without a toll, the project won't happen, and traffic will get worse down the road.

Allison Gregg with the Mobile River Bridge & Bayway Project told us last week, "Right now you think the traffic is not that bad. It's going to get bad. We see trends of it growing to the point where, in just 20 years, we're going to have traffic at the rate of holiday weekends every day."

But Jim Zeigler with Block the Mobile Bayway Toll says his members are for no tolls, and that can happen two ways.

Zeigler said, "Either other funding for a new bay bridge, or fix the current Wallace Tunnel and Bayway, so, without a toll, no bridge.  We can live with that."

The e-mail also addresses GOMESA money, which is money shared by the federal government with states from oil and gas leasing activities in the Gulf of Mexico.

Bridge officials say that money is for purposes like hurricane protection and infrastructure directly affected by coastal wetland losses, not for building roads.

They also said ALDOT has no control over how that money is distributed.

But Zeigler says I-10 is a major hurricane evacuation route and can qualify for GOMESA money.

Zeigler said, "If you took the GOMESA money and bonded it, you could fund about 40% of a basic bridge. We don't need a Taj Mahal bridge, the Golden Gate Bridge south. We don't need that."

Despite the new approach from ALDOT, many of you remain opposed to a toll that could cost more than a thousand dollars a year.

Among the comments:

"There's a lot of people who's driving in every day and home from work. 90 bucks a month: that's unbelievable."

"People that work over there, people that have to go over there. It's going to hurt."

This is the Myth Busters e-mail sent by the Mobile River Bridge & Bayway Project.

With many rumors and misinformation circulating, we will distribute accurate information regarding the Mobile River Bridge and Bayway project. 

In this first edition of Myth Busters, we address some of the issues we are hearing the most.

Concern:  There shouldn’t be a toll.
Without a toll the project won’t happen. If the project doesn’t happen, drivers will sit in congestion more regularly – and will be more likely to be late to work, pick up the kids, class, and appointments. Not building the project also means the cost of the project will grow due to rising construction costs – so we will be in a worse situation down the road.

Due to a nationwide shortage in funding for major transportation infrastructure projects, the state and federal government do not have sufficient funding to deliver the project through its traditional funding model which typically has an 80/20 split between federal investment and state investment.  The federal infrastructure legislation proposed under the current administration is heavily dependent upon tolling to deliver infrastructure projects around the United States.

With a toll, those who use the alignment pay for it. A free route will be maintained for those who do not want to pay a toll; the free route includes the Causeway, Bankhead Tunnel and the Cochrane-Africatown USA Bridge.

Concern: Tolling is double-taxing.
A toll is a user fee, not a tax. If a driver does not use the facility, he or she does not pay for it. Drivers only pay a toll when they choose to drive on a toll road because it provides a higher level of convenience, reliability, or safety.  Toll customers also pay their share of local, state, and federal taxes through the purchase of fuel.  Money generated through gas taxes help fund non-tolled roads that are open to everyone. 

Concern:  The gas tax should pay for this project.
The gas tax won’t be in full effect until October 2021. Then, it is estimated to bring in around $320 million annually for statewide projects. If the state set aside $100 million of those annual funds and earmarked them for the Mobile River Bridge and Bayway project, it would take 21 years before we could break ground. Given inflation, the cost of the project would increase significantly. Moreover, there is currently a multi-billion dollar backlog of existing road and bridge needs that will consume and even exceed the new state revenue from the Rebuild Alabama Act.

Concern: You refused federal funding.
With the exception of the INFRA Grant award announced on July 25, 2019, ALDOT has never been offered federal funding for this project. With reference to the GOMESA funding, those funds are for projects and activities for the purposes of coastal protection, including conservation, coastal restoration, hurricane protection, and infrastructure directly affected by coastal wetland losses. Those funds are not for building roads and ALDOT has no control over how those funds are allocated and distributed.  Even if it was determined that this project was an eligible use for GOMESA funds, it would take away from the many local uses in Mobile and Baldwin Counties that are steeped in years of precedents. If the total annual amount of GOMESA funds was committed to the Mobile River Bridge and Bayway Project to pay debt service, it would mean no other eligible and needed local projects could be funded. Furthermore, even if the total annual amount of GOMESA funds was committed to the Mobile bridge project, the funds would not be sufficient to eliminate tolls. 

Concern: You should use BP Money to pay for the project.
Under the RESTORE Act, Alabama is receiving approximately $370 million to be administered by the Alabama Gulf Coast Recovery Council for projects in Mobile and Baldwin Counties that are focused on ecosystem restoration, economic development, and tourism protection.  To date, Alabama has received a total of $97 million in RESTORE Act funds.  In addition, Alabama will receive approximately $21 million per year from 2019 through 2031.  Even if the entirety of the remaining estimated $250 million were allocated to the Mobile River Bridge and Bayway Project, the funds would not be sufficient to eliminate tolls.  Furthermore, it would mean that no other eligible and needed local projects could be funded with RESTORE Act funds. 

Concern:  Traffic will back up because of toll booths.
There will be NO TOLL BOOTHS. The proposed Mobile River Bridge and Bayway project feature all-electronic tolling. Drivers will maintain safe speeds as they pass under gantries that are equipped with cameras to capture license plates or read transponders.

Concern: ALDOT is going to close Bankhead Tunnel.
Bankhead Tunnel will remain open. ALDOT has committed to maintaining a free route across the Mobile River and Mobile Bay.  The free route consists of the Bankhead Tunnel, the Cochrane-Africatown USA Bridge, and the Causeway.  ALDOT has no plans to remove the Bankhead Tunnel.  ALDOT regularly inspects the Bankhead Tunnel and maintains the tunnel to ensure its sustainability.  Closure of the Bankhead Tunnel is not in any of ALDOT’s short-term or long-term transportation plans. 
Concern: ALDOT is going to remove the Causeway.
The Causeway will remain open to traffic as it currently exists today.  ALDOT will implement an access management plan on the Causeway to help with congestion, which is expected to occur with or without the Mobile River Bridge and Bayway Project.  As stated above, ALDOT has committed to maintaining a free route across the Mobile River and Mobile Bay, and the Causeway is an integral component of the free route.

Concern:  You’re going to start collecting tolls soon (on Bayway or Wallace Tunnel).
ALDOT has repeatedly stated that toll collection will not start until the project is complete and all lanes on the new bridges are open to traffic which is anticipated to be 2025.

All content © 2019, WALA; Mobile, AL. (A Meredith Corporation Station). All Rights Reserved.

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