MOBILE, Ala. (WALA) – The one thing proponents and opponents of tolls for a now-abandoned plan agreed on was that a new bridge between Mobile and Baldwin counties was needed.
Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey went as far as to say the region’s economy depended on it.
But while traffic certainly backs up at times, by the numbers, Wallace Tunnel traffic jams barely register. It doesn’t even crack the nation’s top 100 bottlenecks on a list prepared by the American Transportation Research Institute, a think tank for the trucking industry.
The group, which analyzed GPS data from more than a million commercial trucks, found that the speed of truckers during weekdays in 2017 averaged 54.3 mph on Interstate 10 near the Wallace Tunnel. That tied for 199th slowest speed, far behind the worst logjam – a stretch of Interstate 290 in Chicago. Average speed there? Just 24.4 mph.
And unlike more congested areas, the data show that the average speed on the Bayway barely drops from non-peak to peak periods.
Judged by more nuanced criteria that take the number trucks on the road into account, the Mobile hotspot ranks even lower, at 214.
The statistics look only at truck speeds, but officials with the institute explain that those speeds correlate to how swiftly passenger cars move, as well.
Rebecca Brewster, a spokeswoman for the institute, argued the list indicates that there many better candidates for a major highway expansion. She noted that there are three far-worse bottlenecks just on Interstate 285 in Atlanta near where she lives.
“Certainly, those locations are one where congestion is impacting the trucking industry and, by virtue of that, the supply chain much more dramatically than it is at that location on I-10,” she told FOX10 News.
But Mike Lee, chairman of the Build the I-10 Bridge Coalition, said congestion on Alabama’s part of I-10 is plenty bad enough already and only will get worse without increasing capacity.
“A lot of the public, and I know me myself, rely a lot on experience there,” he said.
An Alabama Department of Transportation traffic study projects Wallace Tunnel traffic will grow from about 70,000 vehicles a day to more than 95,000 by 2040.
Lee, who has spent so many years promoting the bridge project that he jokes it is his earliest childhood memory, said the region’s population and cargo handled by the Port of Mobile both will grow over time. He estimated that the port currently handles 400,000 twenty-equivalent units, or TEUs, a measure of cargo volume. That could double in short order, he said, putting more trucks on I-10.
“We do believe the no-build (option) is a catastrophe for tourism, for economic development, quality of life, workforce development and the safety aspect of (hurricane) evacuation routes,” he said.
Kelly O’Ferrell, who lives in Fairhope and owns a rebar business in Theodore, said she was disappointed that plans to build a bridge fell apart.
“I would definitely be willing to pay a toll,” she told FOX10 News.
O’Ferrell’s business has worked on bridge projects, but she said it would have been unlikely to get any work related to the I-10 project that almost certainly would have been dominated by large firms.
She said she looks at the issue as a commuter who gets stuck three or four times a week – and more frequently in the summer.
“It causes me to be an hour late to work, and I have 25 employees waiting on me,” she said.
Lee said capacity problems – already a problem during summer travel season – will get worse on a daily basis.
“And according to the statistics that ALDOT has shared, there’s … a significant delay caused by either accidents and congestion; about one day out of three,” he said.
Brewster, of the transportation research group, said the trucking industry prefers higher gas taxes as a funding mechanism for the nation’s highway system. She suggested that policymakers consider the worst congestion spots when deciding where to direct tax dollars.
“With limited resources at the federal and the state level for improving infrastructure investment, this is a way to target those resources on the places where there is the most need,” she said.