President Donald Trump vowed Tuesday to deliver a “brand new I-10 bridge” if he wins the 2020 presidential election.
Unfortunate for Alabama, the promise was made in Louisiana.
The president, speaking in the southwest Louisiana city of Hackberry, promised to have the new bridge built about 325 miles to the west of Mobile in Lake Charles, La.
At least one Alabama state official plans to request the Trump Administration deliver a similar promise to Mobile, home to arguably the president’s earliest and most successful campaign rallies in 2015.
“I’m going to make him aware of a similar project in Alabama,” said Alabama Auditor Jim Zeigler, a Mobile resident and a backer of Trump. “I would like to work on a specific plan on how to pay for it with federal funds.”
Zeigler, in a news release Wednesday, said he is drawing up a request to the administration for funding of the $2.1 billion Interstate 10 Bridge and Bayway project from Mobile to Baldwin counties.
Zeigler said he will advocate that Trump support the Alabama project as a way to eliminate a proposed $3 to $6 one-way toll levied on motorists who use the entire 10-mile span of the new structure once it’s completed in 2025.
“The Louisiana precedent is there to use the Trump infrastructure money for the I-10 Bridge,” said Zeigler. “Not only is the (Alabama) I-10 project similar, but it’s more for a case of federal funding. It’s a safety issue on I-10 and through the tunnels and the Bayway and it’s an economic issue with tourists coming to the beaches, and for commuters who work in one county coming into the other.”
Zeigler, a favorite among tea party Republicans, recently started a Facebook page objecting to the toll proposal that would be initiated to raise a lion share of the funding to pay for the Alabama project. There is also a website, www.stopthetoll.com.
Zeigler has called the proposed toll “irresponsible and economically dangerous,” and his Facebook site has over 1,300 followers since it began on Sunday.
Alabama Department of Transportation officials, during public hearings last week, said the tolls were necessary for the project to become a reality.
Allison Gregg, an ALDOT spokeswoman for the project, said the state agency has been working with the U.S. Department of Transportation in securing funding through a variety of federal programs.
ALDOT has applied for a $150 million Infrastructure for Rebuilding America (INFRA) grant through the U.S. Department of Transportation, and is seeking all other funding opportunities.
“Local elected leaders met with the Trump administration regarding the Mobile River Bridge and Bayway project,” Gregg said in an email to AL.com. “ALDOT leadership is open to conversations and will embrace additional funding opportunities from the federal government.”
A spokesman for U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne, R-Fairhope – who also opposes tolling Mobile and Baldwin county residents – said the congressman’s office has worked with the Trump Administration and the U.S. DOT on the I-10 Mobile River Bridge project “since Day 1.” The project has been in the planning stages long before Trump took office.
“Congressman Byrne is very appreciative of all their assistance in moving this project along, and we will continue to work with them to ensure progress on the project continues and receives the support of the federal government,” said Byrne spokesman Bradley Jaye.
Trump’s I-10 declaration in Louisiana comes with about one-week remaining in the public comment period for the Alabama I-10 Mobile River Bridge and Bayway project. The commenting deadline to the Alabama Department of Transportation is May 23, and Zeigler is encouraging residents to reference the president’s I-10 stance in Louisiana as a possible alternative toward assessing tolls on Mobile and Baldwin county residents.
Trump’s promise came during national “Infrastructure Week” and illuminated the president’s interests in pursuing a campaign promise to spend $1 trillion in repairing or replacing aging roads, railroads and bridges.
Congressional Democratic leaders and Trump, in a rare moment of bipartisanship, agreed late last month to pursue a $2 trillion package this year. But there are no plans on how to pay for it.
Trump’s remarks in Louisiana also placed a national focus on the 67-year-old I-10 Bridge over the Calcasieu River in Lake Charles. The bridge has long been labeled “structurally deficient,” and was ranked as the No. 7 most dangerous bridge in the U.S. by Travel + Leisure Magazine in 2017.
Estimates to build a six-lane bridge with modern lighting and walking-biking paths would cost between $400 million to $600 million. The project is still in the planning stages, with the Chamber of Southwest Louisiana just releasing a new proposal for the bridge in January.
Alabama’s I-10 bridge project is much further along the development stage, and could be under construction by next year. A final “record of decision” needed to move forward with construction is expected to be released later this summer.
Both projects are considered “P3” developments, consisting of both public and private investments. And both projects, because of private sector involvement, require tolls.
In Alabama, the proposed tolls of $3 to $6 – assessed on both users of the new I-10 Bridge and Bayway and the 46-year-old Wallace Tunnel – has generated concern among local lawmakers in recent weeks. Among them is state Sen. Chris Elliott, R-Daphne, who wrote a letter to ALDOT objecting to the project being financed with tolls paid for by motorists in Mobile and Baldwin counties.
“We’ll continue to lobby the (Trump) administration for additional federal funding,” said Elliott, who was unaware of the president’s comments in Louisiana on Wednesday. Elliott and other members of the Alabama Senate spent the day focused on statewide legislation banning abortion.
Elliott said that Alabama state lawmakers from Baldwin and Mobile counties plan to meet with ALDOT officials and Gov. Kay Ivey’s office soon to discuss spending alternatives to tolling.
“The DOT is aware of our concerns,” said Elliott. “Our challenge is to find the money for an increased public subsidy and to lean on the DOT to provide more money and prioritize more money for this up front. And that money should be commensurate with what they are doing in other parts of the state.”