FAIRHOPE – State and local officials have resumed discussions of plans to build a new Interstate 10 highway system over Mobile Bay.
Eastern Shore Metropolitan Planning Organization members said Wednesday, Nov. 18, that the state is looking for a way to expand the existing Bayway. The project had stalled after the MPO removed the proposal from the Transportation Improvement Plan in 2019. Members said that the Alabama Department of Transportation sent a statement saying they are again looking at the project.
“ALDOT is continuing to work with the Mobile and Eastern Shore MPOs to identify a solution to the regional traffic congestion between Mobile and the Eastern Shore,” the statement said. “Widespread citizen opposition to the proposed toll on I-10 to fund major improvements on I-10 and US 98 across Mobile Bay has led to the project being paused until or unless an acceptable financial solution is identified.”
The state had proposed a toll on the new bridge over the Mobile River, expanded Bayway and Wallace Tunnel as a way to pay for the project. The estimated price of construction was about $1.23 billion in January 2020, according to an ALDOT report. That estimate did not include other costs, such as buying land for rights of way. Some estimates put the total cost of the project at more than $2 billion, according to reports at the time.
After residents and officials objected to the toll of about $6 for a one-way trip by car, the Eastern Shore MPO voted to remove the bridge from the organization’s Transportation Improvement Program, or TIP. The move made the project ineligible for federal funding. Gov. Kay Ivey said after the vote in August 2019 that the move killed the project.
Jack Burrell, chairman of the MPO and Fairhope City council president, said members know the project is needed.
“I think that everybody in here, has stated that we would like to see the Mobile Bay bridge project completed. I don’t think anybody’s opposed to it,” Burrell said.
He said, however, that members cannot support a toll as high as the fee proposed to pay for the work if drivers do not have a toll-free alternative route between Mobile and Baldwin.
“I’m going to commit to you with all of your help to work with the state and ALDOT to try to see if we can’t get this back on the list, get the ball rolling again on this project,” he said.
Matt Ericksen, ALDOT division engineer, said a first step is for the MPOs in Mobile and the Eastern Shore to agree on a plan for the project and to put that design in their Long-Range Transportation Plans.
He said having the project on the LRTP would allow plans, and attempts to find federal or state funding, to move forward. The work may have to be done in phases as money is available.
“The ultimate project is the replacement of the Bayway, all the interchanges,” Ericksen said. “The discussions we’ve been having are about phases. That’s what we’re talking about. What we’re asking – we understand there’s a funding issue. We’re asking, let’s have the one project put on the LRTP that matches Mobile’s and that’s unfunded. Eventually, we’ll end up putting the project on the TIP, but what we’d have to discuss is what phase can we construct as a portion of the ultimate project.”
Baldwin County Commissioner Joe Davis, who is also an MPO member, said that while he voted against the toll plan last year, he and other members know the project is needed.
“We need to make sure we connect the Eastern Shore and Mobile not just for those people that live here and work in other places and use these interchanges, but for the people that come through here and the people that go from Jacksonville to Houston will come through here if we provide them with a good way to get through,” Davis said.
Burrell said the MPO could bring a new plan up for discussion at the group’s next meeting in January.
The MPO is a body of government officials that approve the use of federal highway funds in their area. The Eastern Shore MPO serves Spanish Fort, Loxley, Daphne, Fairhope and the surrounding unincorporated areas.