Battle over Mobile toll bridge project could have implications across Alabama

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. -- Residents in south Alabama are in a pitched battle over the I-10 Mobile River Bridge and Bayway Project – largely because the plan includes charging motorists a toll to help pay for the project.

The project's future could have implications across the state, if Alabama officials find charging motorists tolls enables more road and bridge projects to be completed.

There are strong feelings on both sides. Alabama residents already pay taxes, including gas taxes, that are used for roads and bridges. At the same time, supporters of tolls, including some elected officials, like the concept because they are specific, user-based taxes.

The Mobile I-10  project carries a $2.1 billion price tag. The aim is to relieve traffic pressure on the Wallace Tunnel while creating a six-lane bridge over the Mobile River and Bayway bridges and new interchanges.

The State of Alabama says the project can't be done without the tolls. Estimates are $6 a trip for the full distance.

Alabama House Speaker Mac McCutcheon tells WHNT News 19 that toll bridges make sense.

"Bridges seems to be the best-understood projects for tolling," he said. "Because it’s a reason for it, it’s right there."

So, if it could happen in south Alabama, what does that mean for north Alabama?

"I can’t specifically name things here in north Alabama that could be toll projects, because I don’t think we’re at that point yet," McCutcheon said.

The Alabama Legislature passed a phased-in 10 cents a gallon gas tax this year, but drivers could see other costs in the future.

"Yes, I think tolling needs to be part of our state’s plan moving forward," Speaker McCutcheon said.

WHNT News 19 political analyst Jess Brown says toll roads are fiscally conservative.

"You ride on it, you pay for it," he said. "You don’t ride on it, you don’t pay for it."

But, imagine paying extra to drive to work or school every day.

"Toll roads are inherently fair and they’re hated by the public," Brown said.

McCutcheon said Florida's had good success with toll roads, but he believes for a toll system to be successful, drivers need a choice.

"If you’re going to have a toll road, you need to give people an option," McCutcheon said. "If they choose not to use the toll, then give them an option.

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