Mobile River Bridge project abandons truck-only toll

January 13, 2022

Tyson Fisher

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Alabama’s controversial Mobile River Bridge will proceed, but instead of tolling only trucks, the project will toll all motorists.

The Alabama Department of Transportation is throwing its support behind a plan for the Mobile River Bridge and Bayway project that does not include a truck-only toll. In December, the Eastern Shore and Mobile Metropolitan Planning Organizations signed off on framework for the project that has been in limbo for several years.

The agreed-upon Mobile River Bridge project between the two planning organizations includes the following stipulations:

  • Project should be completed in about five years once construction begins.
  • Free, no toll options for passenger vehicles. The Wallace Tunnel should be toll-free as well as the Bankhead Tunnel, Africatown Bridge, and causeway. No tolls on existing infrastructure.
  • Significant federal and state funding. The metropolitan planning organizations anticipate at least $250 million from the state.
  • Maximum toll of $2.50 or less on all passenger vehicles. Tolls for 18-wheeler-type trucks are expected to be $15 to $18.

That last condition is bittersweet news to the trucking industry. Although the initial truck-only toll is off the table, the price tag for truckers may be higher. State and local leaders originally estimated a $10-15 truck-only toll. Despite the inclusion of all vehicles, the former high-end amount is now the low-end.

However, the planning organizations may not get exactly what they want when it comes to truck tolls on the Mobile River Bridge.

On Monday, ALDOT informed the planning organizations that it will move forward with the project while honoring the above conditions. While explicitly agreeing to passenger vehicle tolls no more than $2.50, ALDOT’s letter was more ambiguous when it comes to other tolls.

“We anticipate a plan based on financial data and traffic counts to fund all new construction using at least $250 million in state funding, $125 million in federal funding and a toll that shall not exceed $2.50 for passenger vehicles that choose to use the new infrastructure,” Alabama Transportation Director John Cooper states in the letter. “We will continue to work with the MPOs on flat-rate tolling for frequent business and personal travel across the Bayway.”

Discussions on toll amounts for trucks of various sizes are ongoing. Additionally, there will be no public-private partnership. Tolls will end once the state pays off the debt.

ALDOT’s plans included a new six-lane Mobile River Bridge, a new Bayway built to current safety and longevity standards, and appropriate interchanges in Baldwin and Mobile Counties.

$125 million on the line

Approval for the Mobile River Bridge project has been a battle that could cost the state $125 million in federal funding if it loses.

Several years ago, Alabama secured $125 million in federal funding for a project on the Mobile River Bridge. However, that offer goes away in September if a project is not at least in the books.

A proposal in 2019 included a $2 billion project that would toll all motorists. That plan was struck down, and Gov. Kay Ivey instructed officials to find a plan that will solve the congestion issue, secure the federal funding and leave existing routes toll free.

Nearly a year ago, Mobile Mayor Sandy Stimpson announced a plan in an attempt to secure that $125 million. The solution: creating a new bridge for trucks and tolling them to use it.

Dubbed the Mobile River Truck Bridge, that idea included a four-lane bridge over the Mobile River for large trucks only. Trucks more than 46 feet would be required to use the bridge, while being prohibited from using the Wallace Tunnel. Estimated to cost $725 million, truckers would have paid for the bridge with a $10-15 toll.

That idea was met with swift criticism from the trucking industry, forcing local and state leaders to go back to the drawing board. LL

TBS

Tyson Fisher joined Land Line Magazine in March 2014. An award-winning journalist and tireless researcher, his news reports, features and blogs bring depth to our editorial content, backed with solid detail. Tyson is a lifelong Kansas Citian.