MOBILE, Ala. (WALA) – When Gov. Kay Ivey pulled the plug on plans for a new Interstate 10 bridge and Bayway, she walked away from a project that already has cost state taxpayers almost $60 million, according to state officials.
Ivey concluded Wednesday that there was no way to salvage the plan after opposition to tolls prompted the Eastern Shore Metropolitan Planning Organization to remove the project from its Transportation Improvement Plan. That made the project ineligible for federal funds.
The failure of state and local leaders to reach a compromise means steep “sunken costs” that likely never will be recovered.
Alabama Department of Transportation spokesman Tony Harris told FOX10 News by email Thursday that the state has spent about $59.6 million since 1997. About $40 million of that cost covers studies, preliminary engineering, project development and expenses incurred seeking federal approval.
In addition, according to Harris, the sate spent $19.6 million acquiring land where the 215-foot-high bridge would have been built, along with a protected corridor for possible future use. The state demolished buildings and used its power of eminent domain to buy businesses, including the 80-year-old Southern Fish and Oyster Company, which was next to the Alabama Cruise Terminal.
Harris pointed to other losses, as well. The U.S. Department of Transportation last month awarded a $125 million grant for the $2.1 billion I-10 bridge project, which included a new wider and higher Bayway. But Harris indicated that with the project off the Eastern Shore MPO’s transportation list, that grant likely never will be finalized.
What’s more, Alabama also will not receive some $420 million in approved federal activity bonds and $800 million in loans under the Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act. Those two programs offer the lowest-possible interest rates on infrastructure projects.
Mobile Mayor Sandy Stimpson on Thursday tweeted that he believed Ivey could have found an alternative if given more time and added he would continue to work to find a solution.
Regarding the bridge - Gov. Ivey asked for more time to find alternatives to the toll model. I believe that, given time, she would have been successful. The members of the Mobile MPO agreed, as reflected by their unanimous vote on Aug 22.— Sandy Stimpson (@MayorStimpson) August 29, 2019
“Our region is growing, tourism is booming and the City of Mobile is adding jobs like never before. We need new infrastructure to accommodate that growth,” he tweeted.
Mike Lee, chairman of the Build the I-10 Bridge Coalition, urged state and local officials not to give up on the concept of a new bridge.
“If all the work we’ve done so far is truly dead, it’ll be a long time before they can get enough momentum and support to do this again.,” he said. “So, I hope everybody will look at it now and realize we’re at a critical point. And we’ve got to come up with some alternative plans.”
Lee said the state should consider breaking the project into pieces and spreading out the work and cost over a longer period of time.
“We certainly will ask them to go back and look at every option like that, as opposed to create a complete impasse,” he said.