MONTGOMERY, Ala. – Gov. Kay Ivey on Friday called a meeting of the Alabama Toll Road, Bridge and Tunnel Authority to discuss the latest plans for a proposed Interstate 10 suspension bridge over the Mobile River to relieve the frequently congested Wallace Tunnel.
The public meeting will be Tuesday, September 17 at 1:30 in the State Capitol auditorium, according to a letter from Ivey to authority members.
“The purpose of this meeting will be to receive an update from ALDOT, to hear from other stakeholders who may wish to propose viable options for financing the project, and to consider any other business that may properly come before the Authority,” Ivey wrote.
Dubbed the Mobile Bayway, the project’s $2.1 billion price tag will require driver tolls to fund, according to the Alabama Department of Transportation. Plans to levy tolls ranging from $3-$6 each way, and to also toll the existing tunnel to prevent avoidance, have recently received intense negative reaction from the public in news coverage and on social media.
Ivey address some of the criticism when responding to questions at a broadband internet event Friday morning.
“We’re certainly going to work to get this done and move that project forward. The tunnel was built for 35,000 vehicles a day. Now it’s up to 75,000 and it’s only getting worse,” the governor said.
“I called a meeting to lay out the facts and dispel all these rumors. There’s been some misinformation that’s being generated by some who are running for office. This is a major project for our state that needs to move forward.”
In late July, Sen. Richard Shelby announced 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.
In March state lawmakers passed a gradual gas tax increase meant to fund road and bridge improvements. At its peak in 2021, the new gas tax is expected to generate about $320 million, which is designed to be distributed statewide for “shovel ready” projects.
In her letter, Ivey referenced the criticism, saying many “legitimate questions have been raised and deserved answers,” but added that “a few urban myths have also spread which are simply not true.”
Earlier this week, ALDOT released a “Myth Busters” fact sheet attempting to push back at what the department called unfounded rumors. A “Block the Mobile Bayway Toll” Facebook group is a breeding ground for such rumors, as residents vent their anger sharing memes and links.
State Auditor Jim Ziegler, who administers that group and regularly posts anti-toll messages, has previously said he was considering running for U.S. Senate or the 1st District House seat in 2020.
State Sen. Gregg Albritton, who represents much of Baldwin County and sits on the state toll authority, said he was “excited” to get the governor’s letter calling the meeting.
“I think the letter shows an openness to hear the concerns that we’ve all been voicing, and I’m glad to see that. I look forward to working this matter through,” Albritton said.
“It’s true that there has been a lot of interest in this, and the letter is correct that there has been a lot of speculation and misinformation. So I’m hoping we can get this figured out.”