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After Mobile bridge stalls, lawmakers could ‘line up’ for funds

By MARY SELL, Alabama Daily News

With the death of a proposed $2.1 billion toll bridge in Mobile, the Alabama Department of Transportation says some state money will now be freed up for projects for other projects.

“It was always anticipated that some amount of future ALDOT funding would be allocated to bond financing associated with the Mobile River Bridge project,” ALDOT spokesman Tony Harris said. “That funding will be available for other uses, and I would anticipate that officials from other parts of Alabama will line up to seek portions of that funding.”

It’s unclear exactly how much state money was going into the Mobile project, but Harris said it would have been “significant.” And when it comes to road projects that need money, most lawmakers have a list at the ready.

“If he’s got an invitation, I’m in line,” Sen. Sam Givhan, R-Huntsville, said Friday. 

Some lawmakers were calling dibs even before Gov. Kay Ivey announced Tuesday the project was dead.

Sen. Andrew Jones, R-Centre, wrote in a column in early August that if opposition to tolls for the Mobile project killed it, he’d be “first in line to ask Gov. Ivey” to commit those funds to projects in his district.

“I’d be surprised if that money remained down south,” Jones told Alabama Daily News.

Ivey’s announcement came after a local board voted to take the project off its transportation priorities list, making it ineligible for much-needed federal funding. The local opposition to the ALDOT proposal stemmed from proposed tolls on both the new bridge and the existing Wallace Tunnel.

South Alabama lawmakers say their traffic congestion issues haven’t died with the project and it’s too soon to reallocate money meant for a Mobile bridge.

“Just because one potential solution has been discarded doesn’t mean it was the only possible solution,” Sen. Chris Elliott, R-Daphne, said.

ALDOT knows the I-10 corridor still needs a bridge, Sen. Chris Elliott, R-Daphne, said. 

“Let’s take a break over the weekend, let everyone’s feelings and egos heal a little bit, and then get back together to figure out how to deliver a project that everyone agrees is needed, a project that is attainable and within our means.”

Harris said it’s too early to speculate about next steps, except that the Mobile River Bridge Project can’t move forward after being removed from the Eastern Shore Metropolitan Planing Organization Transportation Improvement Program.

Harris said ALDOT has been asked if there would be any retribution after the vote that killed the bridge project.

“We’re not mad with anyone,” he said. “We need to have good working relationships with our municipal and county governments all across Alabama. And we’re not looking to withhold projects from anyone.  That’s not how we plan to move forward.”

Sen. Greg Albritton, R-Range, said congestion along I-10 will only increase. He represents parts of Mobile and Baldwin Counties and had concerns about not just the proposed tolls — ALDOT suggested a $90-a-month pass for commuters — but other funding sources. The project called for a private-public partnership, in which private companies submit proposals to design, build and finance a portion of the project.

“I’m not sure they have any money to give away,” Albritton said about ALDOT funding.

Some north Alabama legislators said regardless of the Mobile situation, they’re pitching their projects.

Sen. Tom Butler, R-Madison, said he and Rep. Andy Whitt, R-Harvest, met with ALDOT Director John Cooper on Thursday about a project on Highway 53.

“Small projects like that, you just have to keep pushing,” Butler said.

In Lauderdale County, Rep. Lynn Greer, R-Rogersville, said he’d love a toll road connecting the Shoals to Huntsville.

“I think people would pay a toll,” Greer said. “If you live in the Shoals and work in Huntsville, it takes forever to get to work and home.”

Harris said there has long been considerable interest, and a need, for a route across north Alabama — once referred to as the Memphis To Huntsville to Atlanta Highway. 

“But tolling has never been considered to fund and finance such a route,” Harris said.

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