Costs increase for Mobile River bridge

By GUY BUSBY
Government Editor
guy@gulfcoastmedia.com
Posted 7/6/22

FAIRHOPE — The estimated cost for the new Mobile River bridge and Interstate 10 Bayway increased by $600 million in the latest estimates, but officials said the change should not increase the …

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Costs increase for Mobile River bridge

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FAIRHOPE — The estimated cost for the new Mobile River bridge and Interstate 10 Bayway increased by $600 million in the latest estimates, but officials said the change should not increase the proposed toll on the route.

The Alabama Department of Transportation announced that the bridge is now expected to cost about $2.7 billion, up from $2.1 billion in 2019 estimates.

The Eastern Shore Metropolitan Planning Organization and Mobile MPO announced the new plan recently. Fairhope City Councilman Jack Burrell, chairman of the Eastern Shore MPO, said the proposed toll on the Bayway and bridge is still $2.50 a trip.

"Don't think that anybody on the MPO is in favor of tolls," Burrell said Monday, June 27. "We don't want any tolls, but we imposed a maximum of $2.50 in our framework. ALDOT went out and they did their traffic modeling in their financial modeling, and they came back and said they could fit in that framework."

The proposal also includes a monthly pass for $40.

"If you are a daily commuter and you travel that every day, it comes down to less than $1 per crossing," Burrell said. "If you go multiple times a day, the price goes down."

Burrell said other routes across Mobile Bay and the Mobile River, including the Causeway, Wallace and Bankhead tunnels and Africatown Bridge, will not be tolled.

An earlier plan called for tolls that would be as much as $6 a trip. The Eastern Shore MPO voted in 2019 to reject that proposal.

Burrell said the previous plan would also have allowed private companies to charge tolls on other routes.

"In the arrangement that we shot down several years ago, there was the potential for the concessionaires, which were the people in the public-private partnership, to control all of those routes and there was a provision in there that they could toll any of those routes in the future at any time of their choosing," Burrell said. "We shot that down. Now, the project is going to be completely taken on by ALDOT. There are no concessionaires. There's no public-private partnership, nobody to come in there and make massive profits. Nobody to control those routes."

Mobile Mayor Sandy Stimpson, chairman of the Mobile MPO, praised the new plan.

"Moving forward with this plan is a milestone in the history of Mobile and South Alabama," Stimpson said. "This bridge is a key component to Mobile's future growth – it connects workers to jobs and businesses to new customers. Building this bridge will be a cornerstone of Mobile's future success."

The MPOs are scheduled to vote on the plan later this year, according to an ALDOT statement. If approved, construction would begin in late 2023 and be finished by 2028.

The current Bayway and Wallace Tunnel were built in the 1970s. The route was designed to carry 35,000 vehicles a day. The highway now has as many as 100,000 on peak days, according to ALDOT reports.

Under the plan, a six-lane, cable-stayed bridge will be built over the Mobile River high enough to allow at least 215 feet of clearance for ships.

A new Bayway will be constructed that will be at least 12 feet higher than the existing highway to meet new federal storm surge requirements. The current Bayway will remain in use without tolls while the new elevated roadway is built.

The state will provide at least $250 million for the project. Other funding would include $125 million in Federal INFRA Grant funding, $500 million in anticipated Federal Mega Grant funding, $1.2 billion in bond financing, and $1.1 billion in Federal TIFIA loans.

The loans would be paid with money from the tolls.

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