MOBILE, Ala. (WALA) — Among the elected officials in Mobile County who potentially could block a bridge project, there is near-universal aversion to tolls.
But there is much less consensus on a push by some that could kill plans to build a new bridge over the Mobile River and a new Bayway across Mobile Bay.
Mobile County Commissioner Jerry Carl on Tuesday announced plans to try to get the bridge project taken off a transportation priority list of the Metropolitan Planning Organization, a group made up of himself and other elected officials and others.
“As a staunch opponent of any toll, whatsoever, I will vote to remove this page regarding the toll bridge so that we can vote on it separately from the rest of the packet,’ he said at a news conference. “I will vote that we do not accept the federal money that will assist in the advancing of this proposed toll bridge.”
Carl, who also is running for the U.S. House of Representatives, called for revamping the plan by constructing only a new bridge over the Mobile River. That can be financed without tolls using a 40-year bond, with $35 million to $45 million a year from existing gas tax revenue.
Meanwhile, Carl said, the state should achieve the other part of its plan – a new, wider Bayway – with a “pay-as-you-go” model.
If the 16-member MPO were to accept Carl’s recommendation, though, it could make the bridge project ineligible for federal funds and loan guarantees. Other members of the organization expressed reluctance to take such a step.
“If we’re going to lose them (federal funds) by voting down or removing them from the plan tomorrow, I would not be in favor of doing that,” said Mobile City Councilman John Williams, who also sits on the MPO.
Williams said it could be “reckless” to take an action that would allow “Birmingham or Mississippi or whoever else the federal government wants to give the money to instead of us” to claim those funds.
“I don’t ever want to jeopardize federal funding,” he said. “That’s our money. Realize, that’s not a magic pile of money. This is our money.”
In interviews with FOX10 News, other MPO members urged similar caution.
“If the project is pulled, altogether, the bridge will never come back again,” said Satsuma Mayor Thomas Williams, another member of the MPO. “That will be the end of it.”
Added Williams: “To pull the project, I think, would be a disaster.”
The Satsuma mayor made clear he is no fan of the state’s plan to help finance the $2.1 billion project with tolls up to $6 for a one-way trip. He called the rates “exorbitant.”
MPO member and Saraland Mayor Howard Rubenstein, struck a similar note.
“Nobody wants a toll. Everybody’s made that clear,” he said. “My only concern is, what is the alternative?”
Rubenstein said he had “multiple questions” heading into Wednesday’s MPO meeting. He said he does not want to be forced to choose between the state’s current plan and no project at all.
“I am really hoping we can find an alternative, because neither are acceptable,” he said.
Prichard City Councilman Lorenzo Martin told FOX10 News that he wants the Alabama Department of Transportation to revisit other alternatives, such as building a shorter and presumably cheaper bridge between Mobile’s Plateau community and Spanish Fort.
“Give us a list of options,” he said.
Like other MPO members, though, Martin said a new bridge is needed.
“I don’t think anything should be taken away from being funded,” he said.