DAPHNE – The city of Daphne went on record a second time opposing a toll for the proposed Mobile River bridge, stating that the fee would hurt local economies, residents and businesses.
The Daphne City Council voted Aug. 5 to approve a resolution asking that the Alabama Department of Transportation look for other ways to pay for the $2.1-billion project instead of charging a toll on vehicles crossing the Mobile River and bay.
The council had approved a motion in May opposing a toll. An ALDOT announcement in July that the toll would be $6 a trip, led officials to approve another statement that a fee that steep would have a significant negative impact on the region.
Councilman Ron Scott said Daphne was the first Eastern Shore city to go on record opposing tolls in May.
“We did pass a motion that said that we were in favor of the bridge, but we were opposed to the tolls, so we were not late to the ball, we were the leaders,” Scott said.
The resolution on the Aug. 5 agenda called for ALDOT to look for ways to alleviate or greatly reduce,” tolls. The council voted to change the wording to remove “or greatly reduce” and state that the city wanted to toll eliminated.
Councilman Robin LeJeune said the first motion was passed during the ALDOT public comment period on the project in May.
“In light of recent activity and more discussion with our citizenry, we felt it was prudent to come back and have an actual resolution stating that fact,” LeJeune said. “One of the reasons we took out the words to reduce the tolls is we don’t want our citizens to feel like we’re trying to have two sides of the fence there. We are for alleviating the tolls altogether for this project.”
Mayor Dane Haygood said a $6 toll would hit residents and businesses in Mobile and Baldwin counties.
“We’re concerned about the maximum tolls that are there and the impact that it’ll have on our citizens, but also our local business owners who rely on employees across the bay,” Haygood said. “Certainly, it is a growing concern.”
Haygood said that since ALDOT announced the toll rates in July, concern has increased for residents.
“I think the community is very concerned and all the answers aren’t there, and the facts have to present themselves, but I think that the citizenry has really demonstrated their outcry and their concern for it,” Haygood said.
The mayor said local officials are hoping that the state can find other funding sources for the bridge.
“We’re very concerned about what will transpire. We’re monitoring it, but really, we’re all at ALDOT’s mercy to complete the process and understand really where we are,” Haygood said. “Hopefully, they can find some more funding and some ways to lessen the burden on the local economy. “
He said a fuel tax passed earlier this year by the Alabama Legislature will also start going to effect. The Legislature passed a 10-cent increase to be phased in over three years, with the first six cents taking effect at the end of August.
Haygood said the tax and toll will have a “one-two punch” on Daphne.
“The concern is following the 10-cent gas tax that’s anticipated to suck $2.2 million out of the city of Daphne once that is imposed,” Haygood said. “We’re anticipated to get back roughly $180,000 a year that will come back to the city of Daphne. There’s a burden that’s Daphne specific and if you look at Mobile and Baldwin, I think that you’ll see that there’s a great burden being placed on the local communities.”
In previous interviews, ALDOT Director John Cooper said the state does not have enough money to build the $2.1 billion project without seeking funding from tolls.