State Sen. Elliott: ‘We don’t need a 215-foot tall bridge…[The port director] doesn’t need it for port operations’
The controversy surrounding the Alabama Department of Transportation’s proposed $2.1 billion I-10 Mobile Bay Bridge that will require a toll of $6 each way may have hit another boiling point on Friday.
On the heels of a standing-room-only public meeting a night earlier in Spanish Fort, State Sen. Chris Elliott (R-Fairhope) criticized the design parameters of the ALDOT proposal that appears to have the support of Gov. Kay Ivey.
He contends those features have more than doubled the estimated cost of the structure over the past few years. Elliott told Mobile radio FM Talk 106.5’s “Mobile Mornings” host Sean Sullivan on Friday the height of the bridge, which under the current plan is 215 feet, is unnecessary and should be reconsidered.
“I think it all goes back to the cost of the project,” Elliott said. “The cost of the project drives the need for tolling. The cost of the project drives the need for a very long timeframe on the tolling. So that’s where in my mind we need to start – is we need to go back to some of the design input that were made early on in this process and take a step back and look and say, ‘Do we need this bridge to be this tall?’ for instance.”
Elliott recounted the Mobile and Baldwin County delegation’s meeting with Ivey at last week’s Business Council of Alabama Governmental Affairs Conference in Point Clear and said she had “read from a sheet of paper” that made the case for the current ALDOT proposal. He went on to reject the necessity of the height of the bridge.
“And that’s one thing I want to focus on,” he continued. “We met with Governor Ivey last week in Point Clear. She had the Mobile and Baldwin County delegations in. And she read from a sheet of paper and proclaimed that we needed a 215-foot bridge for post-Panamax vessels to go under.”
“Now Sean, you know the Port of Mobile as well as I do,” Elliott added. “You’ve fished up there. I’ve fished up there. But you know how it works. You know what the upper harbor looks like and how that is different from the lower harbor and how they serve different kinds of ships. But my problem is, and you can ask Jimmy Lyons at the State Port Authority, and he’ll tell you – we don’t need a 215-foot tall bridge. We don’t need it! Why in the world is that a design parameter? Why do we have several hundred million dollars in cost on this project we don’t need? Why in the world is ALDOT proceeding with that?”
The Baldwin County Republican state senator was asked by Sullivan to reiterate his contention Alabama Port Authority director Jimmy Lyons saw the 215-foot height as unnecessary and said that height was based on a survey of the cruise ship industry of the tallest ships.
“We don’t,” Elliott confirmed. “He doesn’t need it for port operations. The 215-feet came out of the cruise ship industry and the poll that was done 10-15 years ago where they asked, ‘Cruise ship industry, how tall is the tallest ship that you have? Now listen, I have all the respect in the world for the City of Mobile and their cruise ship industry. But I think it is fair to categorize that as probably a tenuous grip on that industry. Why the governor’s administration is doing right now is designing a bridge for the Queen Mary 2 to sail under. And that’s just nuts. We’ve got a problem keeping just the smallest ship Carnival has here. And we’re designing for the Cunard Line to steam up Mobile Bay. That’s crazy. It really is.
“I think that’s we may have some success changing the governor’s mind is pointing out some but very digestible facts like that that says, ‘Time to take a step back. Time to look at reality, and oh, by the way, time to figure out what we can actually afford,’” he added.
Later in the appearance, Elliott urged Ivey to convene a meeting toll authority scheduled for October 7 in Southwest Alabama instead of Montgomery given the location of the bridge. Ivey as late as Friday afternoon has rejected such overtures.
He was also asked about the composition of the toll authority board, which includes two at-large appointments made by the governor. Ivey has filled those two positions with her chief of staff Jo Bonner and her deputy chief of staff Liz Filmore. Elliott predicted forthcoming legislation that would change that.
“You’re probably going to see legislation this year that changes that,” Elliott said. “There are certain things the legislature can do and certain things the legislature can’t do. But what you are going to see out of the Mobile and Baldwin County delegations is probably a dozen pieces of legislation that tries to address some of the failings that we’re seeing right now. Governor Ivey has two appointments that are at-large appointments. She can pick anybody in the state. And instead of picking anybody in the state, she picked her chief of staff and her deputy chief of staff. And I do not think that was the intent of the legislation.”