It was a full house in Magnolia Springs Monday morning, July 8, 2019 for a Town Hall meeting hosted by Congressman Bradley Byrne. Several topics were discussed, but the one that got the most attention is the proposed toll for the new Mobile River Bridge and Bayway. Byrne talked about options that may be available to offset a portion of the toll for local traffic, but those there were still looking for a way to avoid any toll.
Byrne said based on discussions he’s had with ALDOT, there’s no way to avoid a toll of some kind. He did say there may be ways to offset some of it with alternative funding sources. He said GOMESA money from offshore oil and gas leases is an option, but the idea has been rejected by the state. There’s still hope that a federal INFRA Grant may come through, but the state’s submission for this grant has been rejected the last two years. Byrne said his hands are tied.
“I can advocate against a toll. I can advocate for buying down the tolls for the people of the state of Alabama which I’ve done, but at the end of the day state officials don’t have any obligation to listen to me and quite frankly, they haven’t been very receptive to what I’ve been trying to tell them so it’s up to the state officials to what they’re going to do. I’ve pretty much done as much as I can do,” Byrne explained.
While he understands the frustration, Congressman Byrne reminded everyone that the state has to decide how to pay for a new bridge. Those at the meeting don’t think the state has done enough.
I know that there’s alternate ways to fund this bridge,” said Larissa Goodrich from Spanish Fort. “That way that we can have the reduced congestion, all the things the people want, but also with no tolls. Our people can’t. Our people cannot afford the tolls.”
“My concern and the concern of a lot of people around here is that the state is not listening to us,” Celia Waters from Fairhope said. “We’re voicing our concerns. We’re bringing up the options. State Auditor Jim Zeigler has a plan to find the money. It’s called the Z Plan and we don’t feel like he’s even being listened to.”
State Auditor, Jim Zeigler attended the meeting and listened. Afterwards he laid out part of his plan, which included tapping into what he said is a 15-billion-dollar surplus by the US Postal Service.
Zeigler’s plan also includes possible funding from GOEMESA, which would be bonded, 150-million in federal grants and money from the Trump Infrastructure Program (US Postal Service surplus). He’s also pushing to scale back the proposed bridge to just under a billion-dollar project and cut out the removal of the current Bayway.
No representatives from the state of Alabama attended the town hall meeting.