Mobile County Commissioner Jerry Carl releases opinion piece “A Bridge Too Tolled”

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MOBILE, Ala. (WKRG) — Mobile County Commissioner Jerry Carl has expressed his distaste for a toll of $6 one-way or $90 a month to fund the new Mobile River and Bayway Project.

Carl says Mobile and Baldwin Counties account for 30% of Alabama’s revenue and it’s unfair to have its residents pay a “disproportionate share of the cost.” He also says the state can scale down the project and build the bridge for $850 million.

Read his full statement below:

There is a lot of good economic news in south Alabama. We are fortunate to have a diverse local economy with robust growth in almost every sector. Our manufacturing is the envy of the nation with shipbuilding at Austal, aviation assembly at Airbus, and more. Steel manufacturing is expanding and the petro-chemical industry is healthy with potential for much more. Our port is growing with more coal moving through Mobile than any other American port, and the container terminal is seeing tremendous growth every year. The Walmart and Amazon Distribution centers were a quantum leap for our distribution sector with more distribution centers on the horizon. Beach tourism continues to set records.

Business is good and commerce is growing, along with increase traffic from tourism, but all that terrific economic activity is straining our infrastructure. And if we want to maintain our economic edge and keep growing, we desperately need to improve our roads and bridges. We have made some progress, but overall our roads and highways are inadequate. The unfinished Highway 98 in Mobile County is a glaring example of being behind the curve, but we have an opportunity to get ahead of the curve on our main transportation corridor.

Without a doubt, our traffic and commerce on I-10 already demand a new bridge over the Mobile River, and if we hope to keep vital commerce growing we absolutely need a new I-10 bridge. There is overwhelming consensus that we need the new I-10 bridge, but how to build it and pay for it has literally veered off the bridge.

We started with an $850 million bridge, but it morphed into $2.1 billion with a recommended new Bayway some 11 feet higher and excessive luxuries. Tolls were mentioned early on, but locals were shocked by ALDOT’s $6 toll one way! And the toll would also apply to the Wallace Tunnel which is already paid for! Then, to everyone’s surprise the Alabama Department of Transportation (ALDOT) conjured a bizarre plan with minimal state and federal funding, but heavily reliant on private funding. That concept may not be totally flawed, but government and the people would relinquish control of a federal interstate to a private concessionaire that could raise tolls annually, and end up holding local commuters hostage.

ALDOT insensitively offered a $90 per month pass for locals, but that would still burden working families with an additional $1,000+ per year. That is a huge hit on common folks. The local folks would certainly benefit by improved traffic flow, but I-10 is a federal highway. National and regional commerce would benefit the most and tourism traffic would be enhanced, funneling even more money into state coffers. With so many stakeholders, it is patently unfair to saddle average working families in south Alabama with an additional tax for a disproportionate share of the cost.

It has been mentioned that nobody wants to pay for improved infrastructure, but we ARE paying for it. We already pay gas taxes to build and maintain our roads, and the state’s new six-cent tax goes into effect September 1. The state estimates $32 million of new revenue for each penny, so that is $190 million more next year. There will be an additional two cents added in 2020 and in 2021 adding another $64 million each year, so by 2022 the state is projected to have an additional $318 million annually. Please don’t tell us we are not paying for our infrastructure.

Baldwin and Mobile counties generate about 30% of state revenues, so it’s time for Montgomery to recognize our substantial contribution to the state economy and allot our fair share of state funding. Despite fierce stubbornness thus far, the state says they are open to alternate solutions. If ALDOT will step back from their odd commitment and submission to the Public-Private Partnership, we in south Alabama have a reasonable viable solution.

First, we don’t need a bridge with excessive luxuries. Let’s build the original bridge for about $850 million. The federal government has confirmed that the existing Bayway does not need to be rebuilt and raised.

This plan uses the existing gas tax. It doesn’t propose new taxes or new fees. This plan is reasonable, viable, and can proceed now!

ALDOT is at this moment spending some $800 million for interstate improvements in Birmingham without a toll. They found funding for Birmingham and they have hundreds of millions in new gas tax revenues, so they can figure this out for south Alabama too.

We are supremely blessed in south Alabama with a wonderful place to live and we are prospering the whole state and ourselves with our diverse and dynamic local economy. But for our good fortunes to continue, we must invest in our infrastructure. This issue can be solved now if we work together and the entire state AND the entire I-10 corridor will benefit. So let’s get together and build this bridge now with the resources at hand.

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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