The Build the I-10 Bridge Coalition said that it is accepting the fact that a toll is necessary to pay for the new bridge and Bayway.
MOBILE, Ala. (WALA) – Folks in the Mobile area recognize the need for a new bridge over the Mobile River but fear the proposed tolls are too expensive for commuters, according to a summary of public comments released Friday.
Thursday was the last day for the public to weigh in on the proposed Interstate 10 project, and Edwin Perry, project director with the Alabama Department of Transportation, indicated the agency received about 700 comments.
“The overwhelming majority of respondents agree that there is a need for additional capacity on I-10 between Mobile and Baldwin counties,” he said in a statement. “Locals want a higher frequent user discount and for ALDOT to continue to pursue additional funding to offset the toll.”
That contradiction long has been tension point in a proposal projected to cost $2.1 billion.
Allison Gregg, a spokeswoman for the bridge project, said respondents in the public comment period offered all sorts of toll rates they would be willing to pay. Some indicated they should not have to pay a toll at all, she said.
Gregg said the state is sensitive to the concerns of residents.
“But one of issues with this project is with it being a $2 billion project, there’s no way for us to develop a project without a toll,” she said. “And so what ALDOT is doing now is taking a look at the comments and then revisiting our toll rate strategy and, hopefully, developing a plan that will allow us to have a project that’s both feasible and affordable for local commuters.”
The proposal includes a 2½-mile-long, six-lane bridge 215 feet above the Mobile River. It also involves replacing the existing Bayway with an eight-lane span across Mobile Bay. Designers contend that is necessary to make it safe from the 100-year storm surge mark.
ALDOT has not determined what the toll would be – that decision will come later in the summer – but officials have suggested that it could be between $3 and $6 per crossing to drive the entire length. Money from tolls would make up gap left over after state and federal funds and allow the private company that will be hired to construct the bridge to recoup its investment, earn a profit and maintain the new structures.
Under the plan, that company – one of three vying for the job – would be able to raise the toll without state permission has long as it stays within yet-to-be determined limits set by the state.
Opponents worry that would be a prohibitive burden on people who live on one side of the bay and work on the other. The Census Bureau estimates there are 15,356 Baldwin County residents who drive to work in Mobile County and another 4,337 in Mobile County who make the reverse commute.
If the toll were set at $6, that would be $12 for a daily round-trip commute. Even with a 15 percent frequent-user discount that state officials have talked about implementing and factoring in two weeks for vacation when commuters might not use the bridge, the annual cost could be as high as $2,550.
That could make it the most expensive state or local tax many commuters pay. The average Baldwin homeowner with a $250,000 house, for example, pays between $655 and $1,030 a year in state and local property taxes, depending on where he or she lives.
The median Alabama state income tax payment in 2017 was $1,611, according to the Alabama Department of Revenue.
The toll could even be higher than the total state and local sales tax paid each year by some commuters. Estimating the sale tax bite on each person is difficult, because rates vary from city to city and county to county, and because it is hard to figure out how much people spend on taxable items as opposed to untaxed services or expenses like rent and mortgage.
But the Public Affairs Research Council of Alabama last year determined that the total sales tax collected by the state and local governments came to $1,574 per person.
Kevin Spriggs, a Baldwin County businessman who has helped lead the charge against tolls, said it is just one more in a series of taxes imposed on citizens in recent years.
“That’s part of the problem with a toll, is it’s a humungous tax increase for the local people of Baldwin County and Mobile County,” he told FOX10 News. “And at the same time, you have the cities over here trying to raise taxes. We’ve had the gas tax increase, the federal people are gonna raise the gas tax. It just feels like we’re under major assault from all these government agencies, including ALDOT.”
Daily traffic through the I-10 Wallace Tunnel averages nearly 80,000 vehicles, according to ALDOT. But that total surges to more than 100,000 on holiday weekends, as drivers were reminded of Friday during a pre-Memorial Day backup that stretched to the Broad Street exit in the eastbound Lanes of I-10 by earlier afternoon.
The volume could reach nearly 100,000 on I-10 on a typical day by 2040 if the bridge project does not happen, according to ALDOT projections.
“We don’t want to see a future where people are sitting in traffic for three hours a day,” she said.