BALDWIN COUNTY, Ala. (WALA) - In an effort to block the proposed tolls for the new Mobile Ri…
MOBILE, Ala. (WALA) – Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey, in an op-ed sent to local media Friday, offered her strongest support yet for a tolled bridge and expanded Bayway between Mobile and Baldwin counties.
Ivey noted that tolls were in place in the early years of both the Bankhead Tunnel and the old Cochrane Brudge, and she pointed to projections that congestion along the Bayway will only grow from its current daily average of 75,000 vehicles a day.
The governor reiterated her contention that there is no other way to pay the $2.1 billion price tag without tolls. And she shot down one idea that has picked up momentum in southwest Alabama – slow down the timeline or simply deal with the congestion on the Bayway.
“Slowing down a project that is almost a quarter-century old seems unwise,” she wrote. “The cost of doing nothing is too high and no one is suggesting it will get any cheaper if we just wait.”
Under the plan forwarded by the Alabama Department of Transportation, the state would partner with a consortium of private companies to construct a 215-foot-high, six-lane bridge and an expanded eight-lane Bayway. The state plans to award that contract next year.
With the federal government’s commitment to pay just 6 percent of the cost, state officials say the project cannot be financed without tolls. The current plan calls for a toll of $6 for a one-way trip between Daphne and the Virginia Street exit on Interstate 10 in Mobile. Trips along part of that route would cost less, and frequent users could get discounts by purchasing transponders for their vehicles and setting up prepaid accounts.
Toll opponents expressed dismay Friday, arguing that the state has not fully considered other options.
“The cost of ALDOT's tolling plan is waaaay too high,” state Auditor Jim Zeigler said in a statement. “The toll plan would put thousands of families in financial trouble.”
Zeigler, who organized an anti-toll Facebook page that has more than 46,000 followers, offered a number of cost-cutting ideas. He suggested a “scaled back bridge” that would cost significantly less. Less costly enhancements to the Wallace Tunnel entrances that would smooth traffic flow also are a possibility, he wrote.
Zeigler argued that it also makes sense to pause the project to see if more money from Washington might be available. He pointed to a highway funding bill that passed a U.S. Senate committee last week.
Ivey, Zeigler argued, has a chance to become a “folk hero” in coastal Alabama by delaying the project.
Lou Campomenosi, president of the Common Sense Campaign Tea Party group, also pressed the governor to explore other options.
“She said that there’s no money,” he told FOX10 News. “Well, we completely disagree with that. There are sources of money that we have been told about by serious people who know what they’re talking about because they’re in serious … positions.”
Campomenosi invited the public to a meeting on Thursday at the Five Rivers Delta Center on the Causeway to suggest ideas that could be incorporated into a presentation that toll opponents plan to make in October in front of the Alabama Toll Road, Bridge, and Tunnel Authority. Next week’s meeting, from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m., will feature Zeigler and state Sens. Greg Albritton (R-Atmore) and Chris Elliott (R-Daphne).
Campomenosi said the elected officials are there to listen to the ideas.
To the governor’s contention that it is unwise to delay the project, Campomenosi said: “Guess what? ALDOT has already delayed it.”
The state should wait at least until after next year’s presidential election when President Donald Trump might have a stronger hand to pass a national infrastructure plan that offers more money for road and bridge construction.
“We need to slow it down, take our time to find out where the money is and then go for that,” he said.
Story updated at 6:15 p.m. to correct an error about the location of previous tolls at the Cochrane Bridge and the Bankhead Tunnel.