MOBILE, Ala. (AP) — Opponents are hitting back at the state’s plan to charge tolls of as much as $6 each way to finance construction of a huge $2 billion bridge on Alabama’s coast at Mobile.
The Interstate 10 bridge across the Mobile River and Mobile Bay would be one of the nation’s largest, spanning about 10 miles and soaring hundreds of feet above the water near downtown. Supporters say it’s needed to eliminate congestion and improve safety.
The state can’t afford the bridge on its own so commercial companies are being brought in to help, said Alabama Transportation Director John Cooper told WALA-TV.
“The plain truth is, we don’t have the financial capability to build this project without some assistance. A second truth is that a private party makes a contribution in terms of design, in terms of minimizing the cost of building the project. A third truth is that they add to the expertise to operate the project,” he said.
Thousands of people cross the bay each day to commute to or from Mobile, and tolls would range from $3 to $6 based on the distance traveled. Critics say the charges would add more than $1,000 to their annual budgets.
“That’s huge,” Brittany Reeves of Spanish Fort, located across Mobile Bay from Mobile, told WKRG-TV. “We are just a military family and we don’t make a ton of money and with three kids, that’s rough on us.”
The existing roadway, which includes Wallace Tunnel, averages 75,000 vehicles daily. A Facebook group opposed to the toll plan has about 30,000 members, and Emily Wilson said her family would have to save money elsewhere to afford the charges.
“Look at a budget again and figure out what you can cut, ’cause to me that’s a big deal,” she said.
Timothy Conaway said the tolls would make a difference in his personal finances, but he wants what is best for the city.
“If it is going to help us out, in the long run, I don’t see a big issue with it,” he said.
Construction is supposed to start next year, and the tolls won’t start until work is done around 2025. Several candidates in the state’s 2020 Senate race, including Democratic incumbent Doug Jones and Republican Rep. Bradley Byrne of Mobile, have expressed opposition to the high tolls.
The state said drivers would still have a free route between Mobile and Baldwin counties by way of the bay causeway, the Bankhead Tunnel and the Cochrane-Africatown USA Bridge, which is north of downtown.