MOBILE – While a $125 million grant will be available for the new Mobile River bridge and Bayway, tolls are still expected to be $6 a trip when the span opens in 2025, but a $90 monthly rate will …
MOBILE – While a $125 million grant will be available for the new Mobile River bridge and Bayway, tolls are still expected to be $6 a trip when the span opens in 2025, but a $90 monthly rate will also be available, state officials said.
At a press briefing July 17, at the Alabama Department of Transportation District Office in Mobile, ALDOT officials said tolls are the only way to pay the cost of a new Interstate 10 bridge over the Mobile River and replacing the Bayway, estimated at a total of $2.1 billion.
Edwin Perry, ALDOT bridge project manager, said that while the toll proposal has raised objections, it is the only way to pay for the work.
“We understand that tolling is not everybody’s favorite subject,” Perry said. “Tolling is the direction that the federal government is heading to finance large projects like the Mobile River Bridge, just because of the challenge of being able to fund these multi-billion-dollar projects. President Trump’s proposed infrastructure plan relies heavily on tolling.”
Perry said the state applied in February for $150 million in federal grant funding for the project after previous applications for $500 million and $250 million were rejected. On Monday, it was announced that the state will receive $125 million in federal Infrastructure for Rebuilding America grant funding. Perry said before the grant was announced that the funding would not be enough to reduce the proposed toll.
On Tuesday, Spanish Fort Mayor Mike McMillan said he and other residents in his city continue to be concerned about the effect of a toll.
“We’re very concerned about the effect to not only our residents, but the businesses on the Causeway and in our shopping centers,” McMillan said. The Spanish Fort City Council passed a resolution July 15 opposing a toll for the route.
The mayor said he hoped that federal funding can be appropriated before work begins on the project.
Perry said that in addition to a $6 charge to use the entire facility, from the Eastern Shore to Mobile one-time, frequent users could also sign up for a monthly rate for cars, pickup trucks and similar passenger vehicles.
“Right now, what we’re looking at is a monthly unlimited pass of $90,” Perry said. “Use the facility as many times as you want. One thing we learned during the public comment period is that the majority of people use the facility 40 times a month.”
At 40 trips a month, about what a commuter would make going to Mobile and back over 20 days in a month, the price would be $2.25 for each trip. Perry said another plan would allow drivers to receive a 15 percent discount if they make fewer trips but use the Bayway and bridge at least five times a month.
Drivers who use part of the route will also pay a lower toll. Someone going from Daphne to the middle of the Bayway would pay $2.50. From Daphne to the east end of the Bayway, before crossing the bridge or going through the Wallace Tunnel would cost $4.25.
While Eastern Shore commuters have objected to the toll proposal, saying it would hurt the economy and their personal finances, not building the bridge would have an even worse economic impact, said John Cooper, ALDOT director.
“One reason we’re trying to do this project is that we believe this corridor will devolve into gridlock over the next 20 years if we don’t do this project,” Cooper said. “We believe the toll over that period of time has value to the user of the facility and we believe that over this period of time the toll will add to the economic well-being of the area. Because it will provide the ability to plan and rely on a transportation corridor that today is becoming unreliable.”
The Wallace Tunnel, which opened in 1973, was designed for a capacity of 36,000 vehicles a day. Today, the average is 75,000, Perry said. By 2040, that year-round average is expected to be 95,000.
The initial cost of the Mobile River bridge to increase that capacity was $800 million. Perry said that after design studies began, officials realized that the Bayway would also have to be replaced. The Bayway, which also opened in the 1970s, cannot withstand a 100-year hurricane storm surge as required by federal highway regulations passed since Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and Ivan in 2004. Work to raise the Bayway another 10 feet added at least $1 million to the estimate.
Perry said the new bridge and Bayway are expected to be finished in 2025. No tolls would be charged until all the work is finished, he said.