The Mobile River Bridge- a major construction for the Alabama Department of Transportation t…
MOBILE, Ala. (WALA) – Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey on Friday called a meeting of the government body that has ultimate decision-making authority over the proposed Interstate 10 bridge and Bayway project.
The Alabama Toll Road, Bridge, and Tunnel Authority will meet Sept. 17. Ivey expressed support for the project – which includes a controversial proposal to charge tolls – and blamed politicians with ambitions for higher office for fanning the flames of dissent.
She said next month’s meeting would allow state officials to “lay out the facts, expel all these rumors and all this misinformation that’s being generated by some who are running for office, giving out misinformation. This is a major project that needs to move forward.”
Ivey’s announcement comes on the heels of a vote Thursday by the Alabama Contract Review Permanent Legislative Oversight Committee to hold up the renewal of a legal services contract related to the project.
The panel, chaired by state Sen. Greg Albritton (R-Atmore), cannot stop the $750,000 contract with Maynard, Cooper & Gale, the law firm tasked with helping to set up a public-private partnership to build the new crossing. The committee can only delay it by 45 days.
Albritton., whose district includes part of Baldwin County, said tolls of up to $6 for a one-way trip are too burdensome. He questioned whether the state has done enough to explore alternatives.
“I’ve got questions as to the transparency of the system,” he told FOX10 News. “I’ve got some questions as to the liability, and in particularly as to the cost.”
Albritton agreed the bridge is needed to relieve growing congestion along the route. But he said he is not convinced the total cost has to reach the $2.1 billion price tag projected by the Alabama Department of Transportation. He urged state officials to consider design alternatives that could cut the costs.
“It’s a shame that we’ve reduced this question to either/or,” he said.
But ALDOT Director John Cooper reiterated that his agency already has exhaustively studied every possible scenario. A bridge without the Bayway expansion is not viable, he said, because the current route lacks the capacity to handle the 75,000 vehicles that currently travel it each day – let alone the higher numbers that will use it in the future.
Cooper told FOX10 News that he disagrees with the Legislature’s decision to delay the legal contract but added that it will not stop the project.
“It won’t have significant impact,” he said. “It was disappointing that Sen. Albritton chose to do that. But as far as practical impact of it, it’s limited.”
Alabama state Auditor Jim Zeigler, who has led opposition to the toll plan, said he plans to make a presentation at next month’s toll authority meeting on how the state can scale back the project and focus on fixing design flaws of the Wallace Tunnel and the Bayway.
“It’s the next small step toward our goal of blocking the toll plan,” he said.
Notwithstanding the role of the toll authority, Zeigler said one member has outsized influence.
“The governor is the key player in this,” he said.
Ivey chairs the board, which also includes her finance director, Kelly Butler; her deputy chief of staff, Liz Filmore, Lt. Gov. Will Ainsworth; and Cooper. State House Speaker Mac McCutcheon (R-Monrovia) and House General Fund Ways and Means Committee Chairman Steve Clouse (R-Ozark) also are members.
But Zeigler noted that two members ought to be sympathetic to the concerns of Mobile area residents. That would be Albritton and Jo Bonner, who represented the region in Congress.
“But when you look at the numbers and you look at who’s on the committee and such, you can see where the votes lie,” Albritton said. “So, that’s the politics of it.”
Still, Albritton added, he does not intend to accept the current plan as a fait accompli.
“You are underestimating the political power in the system,” he said. “Yes – and the governor appoints the board, and yes, that’s a very powerful position, as the governor should be. But that doesn’t reduce the persuasiveness and the needfulness of what we’re doing This is a question of what’s right and wrong.”