The most significant political controversy that has consumed Southwest Alabama in recent days is not the abortion ban or the Alabama legislature’s failure to work toward a lottery like much of the state, but the threat of a toll on the proposed new I-10 Mobile Bayway Bridge connecting Mobile and Baldwin Counties.
According to reports, the toll could be as high as $6 each way for commuters making the trek from Mobile over the Mobile River, across the Mobile Bay and into Spanish Fort.
However, U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne (R-Fairhope), a candidate for U.S. Senate in 2020 and an opponent of the toll, has said there are other funding alternatives to a toll to which the Alabama Department of Transportation (ALDOT) and other state officials do not appear to be receptive.
During an appearance on “Midday Mobile” on Mobile’s FM Talk 106.5, Byrne explained he and other federal officials were working on getting federal money. However, he said ALDOT did not seem to share the same enthusiasm for obtaining federal money as he and others are.
“Well, you know we were working with the state Department of Transportation on getting what’s called an INFRA [Infrastructure for Rebuilding America] Grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation,” Byrne said. “We’re still working on it. But the state Department of Transportation said they would be fine if they got it, but it wasn’t a high priority for them. We’re continuing to work on it. Don’t worry. We’re trying to get this grant, and hopefully, we will. But the state wants to pay for this by putting tolls on the bridge, and it’s their decision. We at the federal level can’t make them not do tolls, or not make them do financing in a particular way.”
“I’m not saying they wouldn’t take it,” he added. “I think they would. But, they told me it’s just not a priority for them — that they’re just totally focused on tolling.”
The Baldwin County Republican argued state officials seemed to be more focused on tolls and said that in his role as a federal official, there was little he could do about it.
“[T]he state has been just adamant and consistent: ‘We do not want to do that. We want to use tolls,” he said. “So, at some point when you’re a federal official and not a state official, you just got to realize, ‘Hey, I’ve sort of run out my string here. That’s all I can do.’ Now, I’m not changing my mind. I think we can do this without tolls, or certainly buy down the tolls for people from Alabama by using this GOMESA [Gulf of Mexico Energy Security Act] money.”