ALDOT releases ‘Myth Busters’ report, Congressman Byrne disagrees

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MOBILE, Ala. (WKRG) — The Alabama Department of Transportation sent out its own take on Mythbusters, as it pertains to the future I-10 bridge.

The email addresses some of the issues ALDOT said it’s hearing the most about like why there has to be a toll, but Congressman Bradley Byrne says that may not be the case.

The email begins saying without a toll the project will not happen, but Congressman Byrne says the toll decision is ultimately up to the State Department of Transportation.

He said, “Our state officials, the Governor, our state legislators, are in a really good position to say hey let’s take a step back and let’s rethink this.”

The email says the project does not have enough federal funding. Representative Byrne spoke to News 5 about that too. He said, “We do have this INFRA Grant that the federal government’s provided. I’ve given them the information about how they can bond this GOMESA money. We can at least get this thing down to where the toll is affordable, and perhaps get it to the point where we don’t need to toll at all for people from Alabama.”

He said the project cost started off at 800-million dollars and jumped to more than two-billion-dollars in just a couple of years. Byrne said, “I think the scope of the project is just too big for us to be able to afford.”

The email addresses the concern that tolling is double-taxing saying if a driver does not use the facility, he or she does not pay for it. Congressman Byrne addressed that as well. He said, “They’re going to turn the Causeway into a parking lot and not hit the revenue projections they’ve gotta hit in order to make this work.”

Representative Byrne said he as well as other local legislators have been in contact with the Governor’s office about the toll.

Read the full email from ALDOT below:

With many rumors and misinformation circulating, we will distribute accurate information regarding the Mobile River Bridge and Bayway project. 

In this first edition of Myth Busters, we address some of the issues we are hearing the most.

Concern:  There shouldn’t be a toll.
Without a toll the project won’t happen. If the project doesn’t happen, drivers will sit in congestion more regularly – and will be more likely to be late to work, pick up the kids, class, and appointments. Not building the project also means the cost of the project will grow due to rising construction costs – so we will be in a worse situation down the road.

Due to a nationwide shortage in funding for major transportation infrastructure projects, the state and federal government do not have sufficient funding to deliver the project through its traditional funding model which typically has an 80/20 split between federal investment and state investment.  The federal infrastructure legislation proposed under the current administration is heavily dependent upon tolling to deliver infrastructure projects around the United States.

With a toll, those who use the alignment pay for it. A free route will be maintained for those who do not want to pay a toll; the free route includes the Causeway, Bankhead Tunnel and the Cochrane-Africatown USA Bridge.

Concern: Tolling is double-taxing.
A toll is a user fee, not a tax. If a driver does not use the facility, he or she does not pay for it. Drivers only pay a toll when they choose to drive on a toll road because it provides a higher level of convenience, reliability, or safety.  Toll customers also pay their share of local, state, and federal taxes through the purchase of fuel.  Money generated through gas taxes help fund non-tolled roads that are open to everyone. 

Concern:  The gas tax should pay for this project.
The gas tax won’t be in full effect until October 2021. Then, it is estimated to bring in around $320 million annually for statewide projects. If the state set aside $100 million of those annual funds and earmarked them for the Mobile River Bridge and Bayway project, it would take 21 years before we could break ground. Given inflation, the cost of the project would increase significantly. Moreover, there is currently a multi-billion dollar backlog of existing road and bridge needs that will consume and even exceed the new state revenue from the Rebuild Alabama Act.

Concern: You refused federal funding.
With the exception of the INFRA Grant award announced on July 25, 2019, ALDOT has never been offered federal funding for this project. With reference to the GOMESA funding, those funds are for projects and activities for the purposes of coastal protection, including conservation, coastal restoration, hurricane protection, and infrastructure directly affected by coastal wetland losses. Those funds are not for building roads and ALDOT has no control over how those funds are allocated and distributed.  Even if it was determined that this project was an eligible use for GOMESA funds, it would take away from the many local uses in Mobile and Baldwin Counties that are steeped in years of precedents. If the total annual amount of GOMESA funds was committed to the Mobile River Bridge and Bayway Project to pay debt service, it would mean no other eligible and needed local projects could be funded. Furthermore, even if the total annual amount of GOMESA funds was committed to the Mobile bridge project, the funds would not be sufficient to eliminate tolls. 

Concern: You should use BP Money to pay for the project.
Under the RESTORE Act, Alabama is receiving approximately $370 million to be administered by the Alabama Gulf Coast Recovery Council for projects in Mobile and Baldwin Counties that are focused on ecosystem restoration, economic development, and tourism protection.  To date, Alabama has received a total of $97 million in RESTORE Act funds.  In addition, Alabama will receive approximately $21 million per year from 2019 through 2031.  Even if the entirety of the remaining estimated $250 million were allocated to the Mobile River Bridge and Bayway Project, the funds would not be sufficient to eliminate tolls.  Furthermore, it would mean that no other eligible and needed local projects could be funded with RESTORE Act funds. 

Concern:  Traffic will back up because of toll booths.
There will be NO TOLL BOOTHS. The proposed Mobile River Bridge and Bayway project feature all-electronic tolling. Drivers will maintain safe speeds as they pass under gantries that are equipped with cameras to capture license plates or read transponders.

Concern: ALDOT is going to close Bankhead Tunnel.
Bankhead Tunnel will remain open. ALDOT has committed to maintaining a free route across the Mobile River and Mobile Bay.  The free route consists of the Bankhead Tunnel, the Cochrane-Africatown USA Bridge, and the Causeway.  ALDOT has no plans to remove the Bankhead Tunnel.  ALDOT regularly inspects the Bankhead Tunnel and maintains the tunnel to ensure its sustainability.  Closure of the Bankhead Tunnel is not in any of ALDOT’s short-term or long-term transportation plans. 
Concern: ALDOT is going to remove the Causeway.
The Causeway will remain open to traffic as it currently exists today.  ALDOT will implement an access management plan on the Causeway to help with congestion, which is expected to occur with or without the Mobile River Bridge and Bayway Project.  As stated above, ALDOT has committed to maintaining a free route across the Mobile River and Mobile Bay, and the Causeway is an integral component of the free route.

Concern:  You’re going to start collecting tolls soon (on Bayway or Wallace Tunnel).
ALDOT has repeatedly stated that toll collection will not start until the project is complete and all lanes on the new bridges are open to traffic which is anticipated to be 2025.

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