Alabama congressman pushes for Causeway funding, but says role is limited on I-10 project

US Rep. Jerry Carl said he will have a “very limited” role in securing federal funding for the $2.7 billion Interstate 10 Mobile River Bridge and Bayway project, though his office is pushing to secure money aimed at improving the Spanish Fort Causeway.

Carl, R-Mobile, praised local officials and Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey’s role in supporting an alternative I-10 project that maintains toll-free routes on existing roadways connecting downtown Mobile to Baldwin counties.

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“I love what the governor has done,” said Carl, while speaking before 200 people during a Mobile Chamber of Commerce breakfast in downtown Mobile Wednesday. Carl, who represents Alabama’s 1st congressional district, is the representative in the US House for Mobile and Baldwin counties.

“We will get that bridge built,” he said. “I may cross it in a wheelchair, but we will get it built.”

Carl’s came one week after the Metropolitan Planning Organization Mobile and the Eastern Baldwin County Shore each version of the latest comments into the I-11 project’s respective long- and short-term plans.

The short-term plan, called the “Transportation Improvement Plan” or TIP for short, is the most crucial because it allows officials the ability to spend federal funding on a project that is heavily leveraged on borrowing.

“I’m proud of Mobile and Baldwin coming together and the governor putting a package together that seems to make everyone happy,” Carl said. “Now they have it back on the TIP program, which is important.”

Seeking federal money

Jerry Carl

US Rep. Jerry Carl, R-Mobile, speaks with attendees during a Mobile Chamber breakfast on Wednesday, August 3, 2022, at the Battle House Renaissance Hotel & Spa in downtown Mobile, Ala. (John Sharp/jsharp@al.com).

The Alabama Department of Transportation, which is administering what could be the largest infrastructure project in state history, intends to pursue available federal funds to supplement toll revenues that will offset the project’s debt. As proposed, motorists will be willing to assess a $5.50 one-way toll to use the new infrastructure, or a $2.50 one-way toll for those who purchase an ALGO Pass.

Carl said on his end, there isn’t much he can do to secure additional federal funds.

“I’ll do whatever I possibly can do,” he said. “I just don’t want to give anyone false hope that I’ll be a Superman, swoop in with a check, and pay it off. It just won’t happen.”

State officials are looking to tap into the $1.2 trillion infrastructure package President Joe Biden signed last year. The same package was opposed by all of the Republican congressmen in Alabama including Carl. GOP congressmen, last year, expressed concerns that the measure would be filled with excessive spending on projects unrelated to infrastructure.

ALDOT officials have already applied for up to $500 million in a “Mega” grant that is being offered through the infrastructure package.

The I-10 project has $125 million set aside from the federal Infrastructure for Rebuilding America (INFRA) Act that was awarded to ALDOT in 2019

The project’s overall price-tag relies heavily on borrowing, financed by toll revenues. Tolls will only be assessed on drivers who use the new infrastructure that is part of the project’s scope – a new 215-foot, six-lane cable-stayed bridge over the Mobile River and a new, elevated I-10 Bayway connecting Mobile to Daphne .

Carl said he remains “not excited about” tolling. But he said his opposition to him with the 2019 version of the project was due to a lack of toll-free routes. The biggest difference between the 2019 project and the current iteration is that the Wallace Tunnel is no longer under consideration as a tolled route.

In fact, none of the existing routes connecting Mobile and Baldwin counties – the Spanish Fort Causeway, the Wallace and Bankhead tunnels and the Africatown USA bridge – are tolled.

The existing Bayway will also remain toll free until the new structure is built and opened to motorists. At that time, the existing Bayway will be demolished.

Causeway funding

Carl said his office is working to secure money to support a study of the Causeway. A spokesman for the congressman said $3.5 million was added into the fiscal year 2023 House Appropriations bill that passed a few weeks ago.

The money, if left in the Senate Appropriations bill, will fund a study to mitigate congestion along the Causeway. It could also go toward an unspecified construction project along the Causeway. Officials in Spanish Fort and Daphne have expressed concerns that the I-10 project could lead to toll diversion and dramatic increases in traffic counts along the adjacent Causeway and into the two Eastern Shore cities.

Zach Weidlich, a spokesman for Carl, said if the money remains in the congressional spending plan, it will be forwarded to ALDOT, which is administering the project.

I-10 truck traffic

Directional signage in Daphne, Ala., leading motorists to either Interstate 10 or the Spanish Fort Causeway. (John Sharp/jsharp@al.com).

Tony Harris, ALDOT, said he anticipated with the entire I-1 project being placed back into the Statewide Transportation Improvement Plan – another crucial step toward utilizing federal money for the project – sometime early next week.

ALDOT is also hosting an Industry Forum on August 16 at the GulfQuest Maritime Museum. The forum is intended to bring together firms interested in the project from the design and construction professions, and to learn more about opportunities.

The state, according to an informational sheet, is also seeking feedback from individual firms or teams with experience in developing large transportation infrastructure projects in helping refine the approach toward delivering the project.

ALDOT also expected to coordinate an reevaluation of the environmental impact statement that was completed2 that was completed next summer, and ahead of an expected groundbreaking sometime in late 2023.

The entire project is scheduled to be completed by 2028.

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