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Why a lack of federal dollars may not slow down the new I-10 bridge in Mobile

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It looks like motorists along the Gulf coast may get a new bridge over Mobile Bay whether Uncle Sam helps pay for it or not. The Alabama Department of Transportation

says it’s pushing ahead with one of the biggest infrastructure projects state history, even though a $500 million federal loan application is still in the works.

“I did have some concerns, but now I 100% better,” said Jack Burrell, chairman of the Eastern Shore Metropolitan Planning Organization. the local agency working with ALDOT on the project in Baldwin County. He says they’re still going after grants, but this decision means work will move forward.

“I would like to get the grant money,” Burrell insists. “But we're going to go after grant money from now until they tell us we can't go after grant money, so we're going to go after that regardless of how much money we borrow, regardless of how much money ALDOT kicks in. We're going to continue to go after federal dollars.”

Burrell says new state traffic estimates indicate that more vehicles will be crossing the bridge and paying tolls than were expected in earlier calculations. The current Bayway system opened in the 1970s with an estimated capacity of about 36,000 vehicles a day. On a busy day, more than 100,000 vehicles use the highway.

The bridge over Mobile Bay is expected to cost about $2.6 billion. That would make it one of the biggest infrastructure projects in state history. Burrell says new traffic estimates show that the tolls might bring in more money that first expected.

“But I have to think that the volume must be better because they're not going to play with the tolls now,” he insists. “That doesn't change. The only thing that could make the financial forecast better would be more volume, less leakage.

The project should take five years to complete. With this latest step, Burrell says work could start soon.

“They're making some progress on selecting the contractors and the subcontractors for the whole project,” Burrell observed. “I believe we still may make that groundbreaking in 2023. I'm hoping that we do.

Guy Busby is an Alabama native and lifelong Gulf Coast resident. He has been covering people, events and interesting occurrences on America’s South Coast for more than 20 years. His experiences include riding in hot-air balloons and watching a ship being sunk as a diving reef. His awards include a national Sigma Delta Chi award from the Society of Professional Journalists as part of the APR team on the series “Oil and Water,” on the anniversary of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Some of his other interests include writing, photography and history. He and his wife, Elizabeth, live in Silverhill.
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