Simpson on ALDOT claim AASHTO standards deemed I-10 Bridge requirements: ‘That bothers me that people say if somebody thinks it’s a law, that’s a law’
Last week, State Rep. Matt Simpson (R-Daphne) and Alabama Department of Transportation (ALDOT) director John Cooper engaged in a spirited back-and-forth at an informational session hosted by ALDOT for legislators from Mobile County. During the meeting, Cooper made impromptu remarks and claimed the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) had broad authority in determining what is law and what is not law when it came to constructing a highway project that receives federal money, which would include the proposed I-10 Mobile Bay Bridge.
As it stands now, that bridge would be tolled given its enormous $2.1 billion price tag. That amount has ballooned with some pointing to ALDOT’s interpretation that the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) standards being used by Cooper as the basis for the plan reconstructing the existing Bayway portion so that it is at a higher elevation and would, in theory, be able to withstand a potential 100-year hurricane storm surge.
Late Friday, Mobile’s FOX 10 WALA cited an unnamed federal official denying Cooper’s claim. However, during an appearance on Mobile radio’s FM Talk 106.5 on the heels of last week’s ALDOT meeting, Simpson questioned the notion of the FHWA being able to decide what is and is not law and what is not as Cooper had claimed.
“Director Cooper tried to explain to me it was circular with the federal, state highway officials, interstate highway association – that those become law because those become adopted,” he said on “Mobile Mornings.” “They become circular. And the problem I have with that is let me put my hand on it and just see where this is law. Let me see what has happened here because if it is law, maybe we can apply for a waiver from our federal delegation. Maybe we can see what we can do to come through and do something else. But they haven’t been able to show that yet. And I think that’s where things went and got a little sideways.”
“When Director Cooper starts saying, ‘Well, if somebody in the transportation business, and he talked about the federal government and doing these loans, and doing the grants and all these – if somebody believes it’s a law, then that’s a law,” Simpson added. “I believe his direct quote was if one of these officials things it’s a law, then it’s a law.”
Host Sean Sullivan scoffed at the idea a bureaucrat would make such a proclamation, to which Simpson expressed his desire for government to “do better than that.”
“That’s not what we were created for,” he said. “You know, as a lawyer – that bothers me that people say if somebody thinks it’s a law, that’s a law. Come on, man — we’ve got to do better than that.”
On the storm surge issue, Simpson said ALDOT officials pointed to three previous bridges that fell to storm surge. Yet, they were all rebuilt without tolls, which Simpson indicated begged the question of why ALDOT would handle this project ahead of a potential 100-year event differently.
“Here’s the thing that we tried to bring up with that: They brought up three different examples of those storms [Wednesday] due to storm surge,” he said. “It was Pass Christian, Miss., Biloxi, Miss. and New Orleans, La. Well, my question to them was those three bridges got rebuilt. And as far as I’m aware, none of those bridges had tolls on them. In the event that this storm is a 100-year storm and knocks down this bridge, then we get a new bridge from FEMA money that the people of Alabama don’t have to pay a toll on. So, why are we spending so much money on these 100-year flood levels? The Bayway was built in ’77. [Hurricane] Frederick came in in ’79. The Bayway withstood Frederick. I mean, it’s just one of those things of let’s just see if we’re supposed to come up with a better plan by October 7 but let’s put everything on the table, go back to the drawing board and figure out how to come up with a better plan.”