MOBILE, Ala. (WALA) – Local lawmakers Friday expressed surprise over a Thursday statement by state transportation officials that their initial estimate for a new bridge on Interstate 10 was hundreds of millions of dollars less than the true cost.
Opponents of a plan to use tolls to pay for a new bridge over the Mobile River and a new Bayway crossing Mobile Bay have urged the Alabama Department of Transportation to go back to a less ambitious version of the plan.
The figure generally had been estimated to be $850 million. In written documents, ALDOT had pegged it at $773 million. But the agency told FOX10 News on Thursday that the true cost would be significantly more – $1.4 billion.
“That was new,” said state Rep. Matt Simpson (R-Daphne), who had a heated verbal exchange with ALDOT Director John Cooper.
It was “shocking,” said state Sen. Chris Elliott (R-Daphne).
“The concerning part is that incrementally this thing continues to go up in cost,” he said. “And I just have to wonder what’s in store for us next, with, you know, with these increases. And I think at this point, we’ve really got to look at the design input and how we got to a project that is this expensive and, frankly, that we can’t afford.”
ALDOT used the $773 million four times in a supplemental draft Environmental Impact Statement filed in March. It explained how the cost estimate rose to the current bottom line.
“The expanded scope of the project to include interchange modifications and to replace the Bayway at a higher elevation has resulted in a substantial increase in the total estimated cost from around $773 million to approximately $2.1 billion,” the document states.
Project manager Edwin Perry told FOX10 News that the initial $773 million estimate, which dates back several years, included a six-lane bridge over the Mobile River and a Bayway widened to eight lanes. But he said it did not include more detailed engineering analysis that raised the cost to $1.4 billion.
“We’re trying to show what the estimate would have been at the draft EIS level if we had put the same amount of design and engineering into the project as we did today,” he said.
Perry added that the projection did not include:
- Elevating the new Bayway to protect against the 100-year storm surge level, or the cost of removing the existing Bayway. That adds $350 million to the cost.
- Upgrades to I-10 interchanges, lighting, drainage and other environment commitments. That adds another $200 million.
- Inflation and increased construction costs. That raises the overall cost by another $150 million or so.
Elliott said the state’s approach is wrong.
“Well, I think the premise is wrong here,” he said. “We have got to decide what it is we can afford first, and then design for what we can afford.”
The plan to elevate the Bayway has generated a fair amount of controversy and some confusion about the degree to which it is a federal requirement. State officials have suggested that their hands are tied on the matter, although a federal official told FOX10 News on Friday that state authorities must consider risk when building highway over water but that there is no specific mandate to protect against the 100-year storm surge level.
But Perry said dropping that piece of the project would not eliminate the need for tolls.
“It’s not really a big enough savings to really change that to a great degree,” he said.
Perry said the state could build just a bridge – with no improvements to the Bayway or I-10 interchanges – for between $500 million and $600 million. But he said that would result in three eastbound lanes from the bridge and two lanes from the Wallace Tunnel feeding on to two lanes on the Bayway.
That would cause a bottleneck and simply move the current traffic tie-ups currently centered on the tunnel,” Perry said.
“Just building a bridge doesn’t work,” he said.