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Ainsworth: Find Mobile bridge option without ‘extorting’ citizens

By MARY SELL, Alabama Daily News

Alabama Lt. Gov. Will Ainsworth came out strongly against a proposed toll on a planned $2.1 billion bridge in Mobile on Monday.

“The state that built rockets that sent man to the moon should be able to build a bridge without extorting the citizens that it seeks to serve,” Ainsworth said in a video posted to his Twitter account.

He’s a member of the Alabama Toll Road, Bridge and Tunnel Authority. Gov. Kay Ivey has set a meeting of the authority for Oct. 7.

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Ainsworth said the proposed $90-month-toll would cost working couple about $2,200 a year, money they could spend on food, their children or their mortgage. 

The Alabama Department of Transportation has said without a toll, the bridge, which has been in discussion for more than 20 years, won’t happen. 

A spokeswoman for Ivey said the governor welcomes plans for an alternative funding solution to help get this project to the point where it can finally move forward.

“Thus far, we have heard concerns about tolls; now, we need to hear reasonable solutions,” Gina Maiola said. “The Oct. 7 meeting will be the time to discuss all options, which could include an additional funding source to lower or eliminate the toll proposal. Gov. Ivey has remained consistent on her view of the Mobile River Bridge and Bayway project, and with that, is very open to looking at all viable options to move it forward. Moving the project forward is vital for the reasons of commerce, efficiency and public safety.”

The plan also calls for a toll on the existing Wallace Tunnel to prevent avoidance of the bridge.

Sen. Richard Shelby announced last month that the state would receive a $125 million federal infrastructure grant to put toward the project. However, that amounts to about six percent of the total cost, and Congress is not expected to pass a major infrastructure bill within the next few years.

The authority could kill the project and Ainsworth said he’d “proudly” vote no on it. He’s not the only member with concerns.

Sen. Greg Albritton, R-Range, represents portions of Baldwin and Mobile counties and said if there was a vote today, he’d oppose the current proposal.

He hopes at the October meeting a plan will be devised to allow another  decision to be made.

“We have to have a bridge,” Albritton said. “The difficulty is the cost…

“The toll is one thing, but the toll is just a reflection of the overall cost.”

Besides the toll, the project also calls for a private-public partnership, in which private companies submit proposals to design, build and finance a portion of the project.

“We’ve never done one of these before, I’m concerned with that,” Albritton said.

Albritton said the $2.1 billion price tag is based on ALDOT’s estimates, not the contractor who will ultimately do the work. Asked if he thinks the cost might be higher, Albritton said, “Isn’t that the case with state projects?”

State Rep. Steve Clouse, R-Ozark, is on the authority too. 

He said he has’t yet formed a strong opinion on the project and will be looking at the October meeting for suggestions to reduce the cost of the toll, and possibly the entire project.

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