Thursday, June 24, 2021

Mobile needs an I-10 bridge, but truckers shouldn’t be the only ones to pay for it

Earlier this month, the Mobile and Eastern Shore Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPOs) added the I-10 Mobile River Bridge project back to their long-range transportation improvement plans.

This step was expected and needed to secure $125 million in federal funds designated for this project and allows for studies to be conducted using federal money to identify solutions for the project. As both MPOs met, the Alabama Trucking Association was there to advocate for our members. (By the way, MPOs are basically committees made up of local politicians such as mayors, city councilmen and county commissioners who make decisions on infrastructure-related projects that use federal money. This process is required by the U.S. Dept. of Transportation).

I want to bring you up to speed on the processes now in place, ATA’s official stance, and how we plan to be a part of the solution.

In adding this project back to their lists, the MPOs have adopted a loosely formed and unsubstantiated concept developed by the Alabama Dept. of Transportation (ALDOT) that proposes paying for the first phase of the $2.1 billion project by tolling large trucks (46 ft.-plus) only.

There is universal agreement that a bridge is needed to relieve congestion from the Wallace Tunnel on I-10 in Mobile. And, as the MPOs have met, it has become clear that most of the members of the MPOs and other bridge advocates agree that the truck-only toll concept doesn’t make sense. The floating of this truck-only toll concept by ALDOT allowed for this project to be resurrected by the MPOs and avoid the public backlashes they faced in the past regarding tolling residents.

However, to bring this project to life, real solutions to pay for the project must be studied and identified other than a truck-only toll. Pursuing this current concept any further is a failed approach.

There seems to be a broad acknowledgment of this, but there is still much work to be done (by all stakeholders) to find a real solution. For us, it is a bit odd to speak in “opposition” to something that you support, which is constructing a bridge to relieve congestion on I-10. But how do we pay for it?

ATA recently filed public comments with the Mobile MPO on behalf of the trucking industry that outlines our support for finding a solution to pay for the bridge; our concerns with the current proposal; and the many important questions that the current truck-only toll bridge concept presents.

State and local leaders must understand that the trucking industry supports the con­struction of a bridge on I-10 to relieve congestion.

We are willing to be part of a solution, but we believe funding options should be fair and equitable to all stakeholders.

Currently, the trucking industry is being asked to pay the same as the state and federal governments combined. Placing 100 percent of the private investment on trucking while we are only 10 percent or less of traffic is not a fair and equitable solution.

Going forward, as local MPOs study solutions to construct and pay for the bridge, we strongly encourage them to take our concerns to heart, and let’s work collaboratively to find real solutions that are fair and not detrimental to local economies and businesses nor put an unfair burden on a single business sector.