MOBILE, Ala. (WALA) – Drivers would pay $6 – with a chance for a deep discount – to travel the entire length of a planned new bridge and Bayway connecting Mobile and Baldwin counties under a plan unveiled Wednesday.
For people who travel frequently between the two coastal counties, the Alabama Department of Transportation plan offers a $90 monthly pass. ALDOT officials said during a media briefing that drivers without the pass but who make more than four trips a month could get a 15 percent discount starting with the fifth trip. In both cases, drivers would need to purchase transponders for their vehicles.
“We’ve been working on this project for a very long time,” said Edwin Perry, a professional engineer who serves as project director. “We know the benefits of this project. And we understand that a viable corridor between Mobile and Baldwin County is necessary.”
“We’ve been working on this project for a very long time,” said Edwin Perry, a professional engineer who serves as project director. “We understand the benefits of this project.”
ALDOT Director John Cooper said in an interview that the proposed rates and discounts will not be final until the exact mix of funding is set. Under the plan, though, drivers would pay different amounts depending on how much of the crossing they travel.
The rates would be as follows:
- The full length would be $6 one way between the Virginia Street exit in Mobile and the Daphne exit on the Eastern Shore and from Canal Street to Daphne.
- The rate from the eastern end of the Wallace Tunnel to Daphne would be $4.25.
- The rate from Virginia Street to the Midbay exit on the Causeway, or from Canal Street to the Midbay exit, would be $3.75.
- The rate from the tunnel to the Midbay exit would be $3.
- The rate from the Midbay exit to Daphne would be $2.50
- The rate from the eastern end of the Wallace Tunnel to the Midbay exit would be $2.
The monthly pass could end up costing daily commuters roughly a third of what they would pay if they had to pay the full toll with no discount.
ALDOT officials note that for daily commuters, it works out to a toll rate of about $2.25 for trip.
Still, the annual cost would exceed $1,000, far more than the extra bite that the state’s increased gas tax will have on the average driver.
“They’re moving in the right direction,” said Kevin Spriggs, a Baldwin County gas station owner who has helped lead the fight against tolls. “I don’t think that’s enough.”
Details over planned tolls have dominated discussion over the bridge ever since ALDOT officials revealed in February that the project would require a toll of between $3 and $6 per trip. Grassroots opposition has sprung up on Facebook and elsewhere.
The project would cover roughly 10 miles, from the Daphne exit on Interstate 10 to the Virginia Street exit in Mobile. It involves improving the interchanges in Mobile and constructing a six-lane, 215-foot-high bridge over Mobile River. It would be just shy of the iconic Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco.
In addition, the current Bayway would be replaced with an eight-lane structure rising above the 100-year storm surge line.
All told, the project is estimated to cost $2.1 billion, a price tag that exceeds the state’s ability to finance through federal funds and traditional state taxes. The only solution, Cooper reiterated again Wednesday, is tolls – both to use the bridge and the existing Wallace Tunnel.
In order to keep traffic flowing at highway speeds, there would be no toll plazas. Instead, devices would track vehicles through one of two methods – by detecting transponders that driers can purchase for their vehicles, or by taking pictures of license plates and then sending bills to vehicle owners.
The next deadline for the project will come next month, when the state is expected to submit its final environmental impact statement. Under the timeline announced Wednesday, December is the deadline for the three groups vying to build and manage the project to submit proposals. ALDOT would award the contract for the project in March of next year, with construction to take place from 2020 to 2025.
Perry said he anticipates construction to be finished in late 2025. That’s when tolling would begin.