More than two years after debates on toll pricing and other issues stalled out ambitious plans for a new bridge and updated causeway, the $2.7-billion Mobile Bridge and Bayway project is back on the to-do list for the Alabama Dept. of Transportation (ALDOT).

In July, the Mobile and Eastern Shore metropolitan planning organizations (MPOs) voted unanimously to add the project back to the state’s Transportation Improvement Plan, after reworking its toll structure.

The Mobile Bridge and Bayway project includes construction of a new, six-lane bridge over the Mobile River channel, the replacement of two two-lane bridges over Mobile Bay, along with two three-lane bridges and the reconfiguration of seven interchanges.

The six-lane, cable-stayed bridge will have 215 ft of clearance over the Mobile River navigation channel, according to project information from ALDOT. 

A request for proposals released Sept. 2 for the two projects states that the three-lane bridges for the Mobile Bay causeway will be built higher than the 100-year storm event maximum wave height. 

ALDOT spokesperson James Gordon says work should start in 2024 and complete in 2028, and that industry firms have already begun putting together project teams.

Reworked Plan Restarts Effort

The two local MPOs on either side of Mobile Bay, Mobile MPO and Eastern Shore MPO, couldn’t agree on how the plan was laid out several years ago, Gordon says. The governor recommended tabling it, and in the meantime, the two MPOs reworked the plan, presenting it to ALDOT in March and April. 

“That got everything started again,” Gordon says.

ALDOT met with industry firms Aug. 16 to provide an overview of the timeline, project details and to go over its progressive design-build delivery approach. The project will be split into two progressive design-build contracts, according to a project overview presented at the forum.

The two project sections stretch approximately 10 miles along Interstate 10, with ALDOT aiming to receive guaranteed maximum prices for "Project 1" by December 2023 and "Project 2" by April 2024. 

Five new interchanges and the new bridge over the Mobile River are part of Project 1, starting at I-10 and Broad Street in Mobile to I-10 at the Baldwin County line. 

Gordon says the plans include diverging-diamond interchanges, but project teams will be left to redesign some of the on and off ramps to improve them for drivers taking the toll-free route. 

According to the plans, ALDOT aims to increase the capacity of Interstate 10 to meet existing and future traffic volumes while minimizing impacts on Mobile’s $2.4-billion maritime industry and provide a more direct route for vehicles transporting hazardous materials across the Mobile River. Currently, these vehicles have to detour off I-10 through the Mobile Central Business District.

ALDOT says the Mobile River bridge, expected to cost $1.6 billion per the RFP, should be completed within five years, will “alleviate traffic congestion and facilitate economic growth by constructing an aesthetically pleasing cable-stay bridge with a minimum 100-year service life and minimum 215-ft vertical clearance over the 600-ft-wide Mobile River ship channel.”

The state intends to seek funding from federal and other sources to supplement toll revenues. The project will be funded by an Infrastructure for Rebuilding America (INFRA) discretionary grant of $125 million the state has already been awarded, $250 million in state funds and an applied-for Federal MEGA Grant for $500 million.

According to a presentation to the MPOs, ALDOT also plans to use $1.1 billion from a Federal Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (TIFIA) loan and $1.2 billion in senior financing, which will be repaid via tolling revenue.

Proposals are due Dec. 1 for Project 1, according to ALDOT, with the planned notice to proceed with construction set for February 2024. Proposals for Project 2 are due in March 2023, with notice to proceed planned for June 2024. 

A December 2021 letter from the local MPOs to ALDOT asked that the new plan not be phased or piecemeal, according to a June 2022 presentation to the Mobile MPO, and that toll-free options are included via the Wallace Tunnel, Bankhead Tunnel, Africatown Bridge and Causeway. 

Gordon says the toll-free options were included in the original plan, and now normal fees for passenger cars won’t exceed $2.50. 

The new route will collect tolls, but those existing tunnels and the U.S. 90/98 causeway will remain toll-free, as will the Cochrane-Africatown Bridge that currently spans the river to the north of the planned bridge site. 

The Mobile Bridge and Bayway will use all-electronic tolling so vehicles won’t have to stop, with electronic toll gantries spanning the roadway and performing toll collection via transponder or license plate image. 

For drivers with an ALGO Pass, ALDOT is proposing a toll of $2.50 per short, two-axle vehicles, or drivers can purchase a $40 per month unlimited pass. For vehicles taller than 7.5 feet, tolls will be $9 for two-axle vehicles and $3 for each additional axle, with an $18 rate for tractor trailers. 

For those without the pass, short vehicles will be charged an additional $1.50 per axle, and tall vehicles an additional $2.75 per axle.