MONTGOMERY, Ala. – Gov. Kay Ivey has declared the Mobile Bridge and Bayway project “dead” after a critical vote by a local governance group.
The Eastern Shore Metropolitan Planing Organization (MPO) on Wednesday voted to remove the Mobile Bridge and Bayway proposal from its Transportation Improvement Plan, a move that Ivey warned would derail the project some 20 years in the making.
“With the action taken today, there is no pathway forward, and this project is dead,” Ivey said Wednesday evening.
Members of the MPO, which includes local mayors and county commissioners, voiced opposition to the Alabama Department of Transportation’s plan to use tolls to finance the $2.1 billion construction. A proposal released earlier this year estimated one-way tolls ranging from $3 to $6, with discounts for local commuters. The span over the Mobile River shipping channel and reconstructed bridge along Mobile Bay are meant to ease frequent traffic congestion along Interstate 10 as it passes through the Wallace Tunnel.
Earlier in the day, Gov. Kay Ivey urged Daphne Mayor Dane Haygood, who chairs the Eastern Shore MPO, and Mobile Mayor Sandy Stimpson, who chairs the Mobile MPO, to keep the project on their Transportation Improvement Plan lists, warning that removing it would threaten the ability to get federal dollars for the bridge and other projects.
Under federal law, MPOs must submit a transportation improvement plan to the U.S. Department of Transportation that includes a list of upcoming transportation projects covering a period of at least four years. If a project is not part of a local MPO’s transportation improvement plan, it becomes ineligible for federal funding.
In a letter, Ivey wrote that, despite disagreements over tolls, keeping the project as part of their transportation plans would allow the process to continue, including exploring alternative funding mechanisms.
“We all know that the only way to see if this bridge is possible is the keep the process going,” Ivey wrote.
“You have my word that at no time will ALDOT move forward to complete the procurement process until the final, best plan available has been disclosed to both the ESMPO and MMPO, with each having sufficient time to remove the Project from its TOIP if, for whatever reason, it desires to do so.”
Last week, the Mobile MPO delayed a vote on whether or not to keep the bridge project on its transportation list. Their Eastern Shore counterparts wasted no time, voting 8-1 to remove the project.
During the meeting, Haygood expressed frustration with the process set up by the state.
“Every time I have reached out to ALDOT, I have gotten great information. But, I don’t know every question to ask when it comes to one whisper at a time. That’s no way to operate. We’re going to have to fix that. And if they’re not willing to change that, then we don’t need to go down this path.”
Ivey also cancelled an upcoming meeting of the Alabama Toll Road and Bridge Authority, which she had previously called to hear feedback on the bridge plan and discuss alternative proposals.
In a news release declaring the project dead, Ivey said, “without a project, there is no need for a meeting on October 7. I am thereby cancelling the Toll Road, Bridge and Tunnel Authority meeting.”
Lt. Gov. Will Ainsworth is on the authority and last week voiced his opposition to the project.
“Daphne Mayor Dane Haygood and the members of the Eastern Shore MPO should be commended for listening to the citizens they represent, giving voice to their concerns, and voting to end the ill-conceived and fatally-flawed toll bridge project connecting Baldwin and Mobile counties,” Ainsworth said in a statement Wednesday evening.
Ainsworth urged ALDOT “to go back to the drawing board and come back with a more sensible and scaled down bridge proposal that releases traffic pressure without the need for tolling the hardworking residents of our state.”