State Sen. Andrew Jones: Bring unused I-10 Mobile Bridge funds to my district — ‘No’ to future tolls ‘not a viable alternative’
In the days following Gov. Kay Ivey’s formal declaration of calling the proposed I-10 Mobile Bay Bridge “dead,” some state lawmakers have seized the opportunity to say if southwestern Alabama does not want those resources, send them our way.
Among those is Sen. Andrew Jones (R-Centre), who even before Ivey’s statement had made overtures that the Alabama Department of Transportation consider projects in his senate district.
During an appearance on Alabama Public Television’s “Capitol Journal,” Jones once again called on ALDOT to take a look at a connector for Interstate 759 near Gadsden and a new span for a bridge over the Coosa River on Alabama Highway 77 near Southside.
“We have several key projects, particularly in Gadsden and Etowah County,” Jones said. “The 759 Eastern connector, which would allow folks to come off of the interstate, bypass the city of Gadsden and connect to U.S. 431 and 278. It’s crucial for the economic development and the traffic congestion in my district. Also, the Southside bridge, as it is known, which is a bridge over the Coosa River on Highway 77 in Southside, is also a crucial bridge that is needed in my district. So, in looking at this I-10 toll bridge situation, I quickly realized that it might not pan out, and if so, we want to make sure we do everything we can to get those resources in my district.”
Jones confirmed that immediately upon the news that the I-10 project was “dead,” he reached out to Ivey’s office and ALDOT Director John Cooper.
“As soon as the project was declared dead, I reached out to the governor’s office, and look forward to sitting down with the governor and the Director of Transportation Cooper very soon to talk about those two key projects in my district,” he added.
Jones’ senate district was, however, one of the first recipients of improvements made under the Rebuild Alabama Act, which passed the Alabama legislature and was signed into law earlier this year. Back in April, Ivey’s office announced the widening of U.S. Highway 411 to Cherokee County, which would give the county four-lane access to an interstate highway.
The Cherokee County Republican lawmaker also expressed his disappointment in how the I-10 Mobile Bridge saga played out and said any obstacles to future tolling or public-private partnerships would be something that he would oppose.
“Don, I was a little disappointed in some of the rhetoric by some of our elected officials around the state,” Jones said. “You know, to build the Alabama of tomorrow, we have to have solutions to problems, and simply saying ‘no,’ in my opinion, is not an adequate solution. It’s incumbent upon us as elected officials to find alternatives, to look forward with a vision. And I think that should have been part of the discussion with this project. And certainly, when you think about the scope of the project — $2.1 billion, which is as much as the entire 2020 general fund budget that we set for fiscal year 2020 – you look at that and you think if a portion doesn’t come from tolls, then it has to be entirely state and federal funded.”
“I can tell you now that folks in my district would not see that as a fair use of resources because we have needs in our area,” he continued. “A project of that scale and that scope, you have to have public-private partnerships. So looking forward, I want to make sure we do everything we can. You know, there are several proposals to look at, you know, blocking tolls or public-private partnerships that may come before the legislature next sessions. And I think I would be derelict in my duty as a senator for Etowah, Cherokee and DeKalb [Counties] to allow such a proposal to go forward because you’ve got to have mechanisms like that so the folks in the rest of Alabama can also fund the projects that we need without having it all sent toward one massive project.”
Jones went on to call on elected officials to reopen a dialogue with Ivey and ALDOT.
“I think the option should be open,” he added. “I think it’s incumbent upon the folks in Mobile and Baldwin Counties, particularly the leadership, to sit down with the governor and the highway director and come up with an alternative. But again, I firmly believe ‘no’ is not a viable alternative.”