Skip to comments.How to pay for billion-dollar I-10 Bridge as Alabama turns to private sector
Posted on 09/15/2017 12:13:36 PM PDT by Tolerance Sucks Rocks
With public funding options limited, Alabama transportation officials are turning to the private sector for advice and creative solutions in paying for the massive Interstate 10 overhaul in coastal Alabama.
John Cooper, director of the Alabama Department of Transportation, said Monday that state officials were interested in learning more about project plans from approximately 400 private sector attendees during the two-day Industry Forum at the Arthur R. Outlaw Mobile Convention Center.
That includes financing, which remains the biggest hurdle toward moving the project forward in the next year. At this point, no options have been settled including whether to institute tolls to pay for bridge.
"How we finance the project is, to some extent, what we will learn from in these meetings," said Cooper.
Since July 2014, when a draft environmental impact study was first released, a host of financing options have been tossed out. Few have gained traction, and scant answers have been revealed on how the structure will be funded.
Even the overall costs of the project are murky. Cooper said the 215-foot-tall, six-lane bridge over the Mobile River is estimated to cost around $850 million, which is the only estimate that has been publicized for more than three years.
That cost, Cooper said on Monday, does not include additional construction work needed to tie the bridge with I-10 near Virginia Street in Mobile County or with the existing Bayway.
The project could cost even more, depending on whether the 7.5-mile Bayway is expanded from four lanes to eight.
Cooper said he's seen estimates between $800 million to $1.8 billion, "depending on how much you do."
He promised, however, that the bridge, itself, would get built.
Also under consideration is a complete raising of the Bayway to an elevation above a 100-year storm surge event. The costs to elevate the Bayway are also unknown.
"I don't want to talk too much about that, because we are interested in seeing what these people think the cost is," said Cooper, referring to ALDOT's reliance on learning more from the private sector during the Industry Forum instead of issuing cost estimates.
ALDOT anticipates the project will be implemented through a public-private partnership in the form of a design-build-finance-operate-and-maintain model.
ALDOT intends to follow up the Industry Forum by issuing a Request for Qualifications (RFQ) this fall, with a Request for Proposals (RFP) scheduled for the second quarter of 2018. The state plans to work with three teams to develop, design and construct the bridge.
Construction is expected to begin by 2019, and last more than four years.
Cooper, though, said he's unsure how the process will unfold.
"You might see us engaged with an engineer, or an engineer-contractor or to make a deal with a concessionaire who would then put together a complete team to build a project in an all-encompassing proposal," said Cooper. "We just don't know where this will go."
He added, "What we do know is through one of these methods, we'll build the bridge."
Atop the funding considerations is for tolling, though exact fares or how motorists will be assessed the toll, remain unknown.
Approximately 60 percent of motorists who travel I-10 are from out-of-state, with the remainder of drivers commuting from Baldwin County to downtown Mobile.
"We have always thought tolls should be a portion of the financing of this project just by the nature of this corridor," Cooper said. "We have a huge out-of-state participating traveling through the corridor. We always believed those folks should help the people of Alabama, in a meaningful way, to help pay for the project."
Tolls haven't always been popular. Among the critics for a tolled bridge is U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne, R-Fairhope, who has said motorists will look for ways to avoid tolls.
Vince Calametti, ALDOT's Southwest Region's chief engineer, said the I-10 project could be similar to the new Tappan Zee Bridge in New York City. That project, costing an estimated $4 billion, is being financed through $2 billion from bank settlements, $1.6 billion from a federal loan, and with tolls.
Calametti also said that ALDOT will continue exploring federal assistance, such as applying for the Infrastructure for Rebuilding America (INFRA) grants. Those grants are intended to go toward projects viewed as a critical infrastructure need, and I-10 seems to fit the description: The Hill newspaper listed I-10 as one of five infrastructure emergencies in the U.S. last year.
Other financing mechanism, aside tolls and private investment, include money from the Gulf of Mexico Energy Security Act (GOMESA). That money, which provides revenue to Alabama to compensate for environmental impacts of oil and gas exploration in the Gulf of Mexico, is supposed to go toward coastal conservation, restoration and hurricane protection.
Baldwin County Commission Chairman Chris Elliott said GOMESA could still be considered, but agreed with Cooper in that tolls are "the right direction."
"It's really all options on the table," said Elliott. "We are looking at a way that 60 percent of the traffic not from Mobile and Baldwin counties paying for a portion of this bridge through a tolling option. That will be much more palatable for our taxpayers."
Also unknown is whether an increase in Alabama's portion of the gasoline tax can be applied toward the bridge's funding. Alabama's 18-cents-per-gallon tax hasn't been raised since 1992.
Gov. Kay Ivey has stated that she supports a gas tax increase to help fund large infrastructure projects.
"The Legislature might pick up the gas tax this session, but I don't know how much that will play into this, quite honestly," said state Sen. Bill Hightower, R-Mobile.
Also unknown is whether President Donald Trump can usher through a nationwide infrastructure program which he promised while campaigning for the presidency last year. Trump's $1 trillion infrastructure program appears stalled as Congress has shifted its focus this year to overhauling health care and the federal tax code.
"In general, I think you would comprehend that you will need some form of participation from the federal government, which we expect to get," said Cooper. "We will need a commitment from ALDOT at some level, which we expect to be able to fund. It would be nice to have those (expenses) replaced by some form of additional funding from our standpoint, but that is not necessary for this project to go forward."
Every employer that hires a Dreamer should have to pay a 10% infrastructure tax, based on their wages.
And if they hire illegal non-Dreamers, it should be less than that, as a message to pResident Trump.
Wish they could scrape together enough money to finish US 98 west of town. There’s about six or eight miles of it complete, but not tied in at either end. And it was built 10 years ago.
Sounds like high polls are coming to Alabama.
The bridge will probably have all-electronic polling. With such a system, you can be polled at highway speed as you drive the bridge. No poll booths to cause traffic and accidents from weaving drivers.
I-10 runs from Los Angeles to Jacksonville, Florida. The tunnel at Mobile is the most likely place to have an accident on that whole freeway route.
The traffic across to the east bay is often stopped or 'crawling'. There was a days long traffic jam there recently with evacuees returning to Florida. A real mess.
I haven’t lived there in some time. Is US 98 not available since Katrina? I remember a wonderful seafood place on 98 near the USS Alabama. My elderly mother used to take that because she didn’t feel safe with all the drivers whizzing past her on the I-10 bridge back when she lived in Daphne.
Is 8 lanes really necessary? How are they going to make that work with the four-lane tunnel?
I’m referring to the part of 98 from the MS/AL border through Wilmer and Semmes to I-65. Two lane part way, and lots of traffic. The part over the bay past the USS Alabama is still there.
Road to nowhere: U.S. 98 project in Mobile remains unfinished
That 25 MPH curve at the west end of the George C. Wallace Tunnel has been a problem ever since it was opened in the early 70s. A real engineering Charlie Foxtrot.
And back in June, they decided the Water Street exit onto I-10 eastbound needed to be closed. It’s only been there 45 years.
I believe that this new bridge is meant to either replace or supplement the tunnel. Therefore, they can have up to 8 lanes on it.
Then I thought of Carl Sagan saying "Billions and Billions."
They'll use a whip...
How ‘bout killing the UNION\prevailing wage requirement(s)? Open the bidding to ALL parties and watch the Leftist hysterics.
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