DAPHNE, Ala. (WALA) – Mobile officials on Wednesday put a lasso around a proposal to build a toll bridge across Mobile River. Next week, Eastern Shore officials might put it in a straightjacket.
The vote Wednesday by the Mobile Metropolitan Planning Organization removed the bridge and Bayway project from its Transportation Improvement Plan list until after an Oct. 7 meeting of the Alabama Toll Road, Bridge, and Tunnel Authority.
A resolution drafted by Daphne Mayor Dane Haygood, chairman of the Eastern Shore MPO board, would be more open-ended. It simply would remove the project from its TIP, making the entire endeavor ineligible for federal funds and loan guarantees.
Haygood said the MPO could revisit the issue at a later date, but he added he would recommend it not do so until the Alabama Department of Transportation comes up with a comprehensive plan – in writing – that would eliminate or radically reduce tolls now envisioned at up to $6 for a one-way trip across Mobile Bay.
“It puts us back in the driver’s seat,” he said.
The broad outlines of the project have been known for months. The plan calls for a new six-lane bridge and an elevated Bayway running four lanes in each direction. But Haygood said he has grown frustrated by ALDOT’s inability to answer certain questions about the project or provide certain details.
Part of the problem, Haygood said, is that some details cannot be determined until after the state receives bids from the private companies vying to build and manage the new 10-mile route.
“We don’t have a clear plan,” he said. “There are too many variables. … We only hear about one parameter at a time.”
Added Daphne City Councilman Ron Scott, another member of the Eastern Shore MPO: “They don’t have it in writing. They can’t give us any details.”
But ALDOT officials told state legislators from southwest Alabama on Wednesday that they cannot even put out a request for proposals if the project is not on the TIP lists of both MPOs.
“What happened today with our MPO is that we, Federal Highway Administration will not allow us to release the request for proposals until this project is in the Transportation Improvement Plan,” said Missi Schumer, ALDOT’S environmental lead on the project. “So, we can’t even get to the point where we can ask for proposals to figure out how much money we need, to go back to the federal government to say, ‘What are our options? Can you please help us?’”
Scott said charging tolls at the rates ALDOT has proposed would change the “business model” on both sides of Mobile Bay.
“I just think a $6 toll is a nonstarter,” he said. “We’re better off with nothing happening.”
Haygood said he spoke with Gov. Kay Ivey on Wednesday and came away encouraged that she is committed to working with local officials.
Baldwin County Commissioner Billie Jo Underwood, who has a seat on the MPO board, told FOX10 News that she has not had a chance to review Haygood’s resolution. She lamented that the federal regulations governing the project seem to be open to interpretation.
“I don’t like gray areas,” she said. “I’m an accountant. I like black and white.”