By Al Muskewitz
Mark Colson is all for improving the state's infrastructure, reducing traffic congestion and the building of the I-10 Mobile River Bridge project in South Alabama. It’s a project that will be good for the community, good for all commuters and good for trucking.
What he is not for – and never has been – is the project being funded initially by a truck-only toll.
The Alabama Trucking Association president and CEO wrote a letter to the Mobile and Eastern Shore Metropolitan Planning Organizations and addressed public officials this week to advocate that position on behalf of his organization’s members.
The MPOs returned the project to their long-range plans to secure $125 million in federal funds designated for the project, in part to pay for studies to identify solutions for the project. In doing so, they have adopted a concept developed by the Alabama Department of Transportation proposing to repay the borrowed portion of the estimated $675 million initial phase of the $2.1 billion project by tolling trucks 46 feet or longer $15 per trip.
Colson said pursing this concept is a “failed approach.” One criticism of the ALDOT approach is it eliminates a wide range of commercial vehicles that would not be subject to the toll.
The project is needed to relieve congestion from the Wallace Tunnel on I-10 in Mobile, which in the big picture isn’t one of the country’s major bottlenecks (it's barely in the top 200), but like much of the country’s infrastructure is in need of updating for continued growth. Officials have projected tunnel traffic will grow to nearly 100,000 vehicles by 2040.
Still, trucking provides less than 10 percent of the traffic through the tunnel. An earlier failed attempt proposed tolling all vehicles to pay for the project, which, of course, brought an outcry from the community.
“Creating a truck-only toll bridge on an existing interstate highway is an unsubstantiated concept that invites more questions than answers to the problem that is being discussed,” Colson wrote in his letter to the Mobile MPO Policy Board. “It also invites significant challenges to the constitutionality of the proposal, which would put in jeopardy the $125 million in federal funding due to delays caused by the legal process.
“Alabama’s trucking industry has been and will continue to be willing to support finding solutions to this very difficult challenge, and we are willing to be part of a solution. However, we believe placing 100 percent of bond financing costs on the trucking industry via a truck-only toll bridge will have serious unintended consequences, potentially not solve the congestion problem and ultimately delay implementation of a real solution well into the future.”
Al Muskewitz is Editor of Wright Media. He can be reached at email@example.com