This is a common site along Interstate 10 in Mobile near the Wallace Tunnel, especially during peak summer travel months. In this picture, Memorial Day weekend traffic heads east on I-10 into the Wallace Tunnel on Friday, May 22, 2015, in Mobile, Ala. (file photo)
The Interstate 10 Mobile River Bridge project and the widening of Interstate 565 in Huntsville can move forward without either "impeding the progress" of the other, according to a spokesman with Gov. Kay Ivey.
"The two projects are at different stages of development," said Daniel Sparkman, the governor’s spokesman, who is not working on her campaign. "Both projects are important to the Ivey administration, because without good infrastructure, the wheels of commerce will cease to turn."
His comments come two days after Ivey and Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle butted heads over the placement of the I-565 project on the state’s list of priority infrastructure projects. Battle and Ivey are two of four Republicans running for governor ahead of the June 5 primary.
Gov. Kay Ivey, Tommy Battle spar over highway project at ribbon cutting
Ivey made an unprompted statement during a ribbon-cutting ceremony in Huntsville Wednesday to reiterate her views that I-565 – an interstate spur from I-65 to Huntsville – is a "high priority."
Speaking to reporters after the event, Ivey said she wasn’t sure whether I-565 would be moved up the list of state infrastructure priorities ahead of the I-10 bridge. She said it "has not been discussed so I can’t comment on that right now."
The new multi-lane bridge above the Mobile River, and the subsequent widening of the I-10 Bayway from Mobile to Baldwin County, had been the state’s No. 1 infrastructure priority during the final months of Gov. Robert Bentley’s administration.
At the time, the bridge project was estimated to cost around $850 million. But those estimates have since been adjusted, and officials believe it could be around $2 billion.
The Mobile and Huntsville area projects are completely different from each other. The Alabama Department of Transportation will rely upon traditional federal and state grants for the I-565 project, which is estimated to cost anywhere between $70 million and $100 million.
The I-10 bridge and Bayway project will likely rely, at least in part, on private-sector funding. A tolling system is expected to be implemented, according to Baldwin County Commission Chairman Chris Elliott, who is running for state Senate this year.
Elliott said the state is also pursuing $250 million in federal Infrastructure for Rebuilding American (INFRA) grants for the job. A state expenditure of $20 million for engineering and environmental work is expected to be one of the initial steps.
Said U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne, R-Fairhope: "The I-10 bridge project is much further along, so I do not consider the projects to be competing at all."
Three design teams are in the hunt to be awarded the state’s contract to rebuild I-10 through Mobile, and a decision could be made by year’s end. Elliott’s prediction: "We’ll be driving on this bridge in 2025."
The bridge project looks to clear up the bottlenecks that form on the east-west interstate near downtown Mobile. During peak traffic during summer travel months, traffic congestion can be backed up for miles. The Hill newspaper listed I-10 in Mobile as one of five major interstates in "dire need of repair."
The I-565 project is viewed by Tennessee Valley lawmakers, including Battle, as a priority for the northern part of Alabama. The lane-widening project is needed, they say, to address a traffic bottleneck prior to the opening of the Mazda-Toyota Manufacturing USA facility. The Mazda-Toyota joint effort is projected to bring 10,000 direct and indirect jobs to the area.
The crux of Wednesday’s controversy involved where the I-565 project ranked among ALDOT’s priorities. An ALDOT planning document showed the project not under construction until 2043. But ALDOT officials said this week that those plans are outdated.
Tony Harris, a spokesman with ALDOT, said he doesn’t like the term "top priority" to distinguish between two major infrastructure projects.
Said Byrne: "As our state continues to grow and attract new businesses, these two projects just highlight the need to think outside the box and find innovative way to rebuild our infrastructure."
Battle, in Mobile on Friday, questioned why ALDOT documents didn’t reflect the urgency that Ivey vocalized on Wednesday. Harris, in a statement to AL.com on Thursday, said the project is a "high priority to us." He said that the ALDOT planning documents are outdated, but could not put an estimated construction date on when the project might start.
"As far as the ALDOT plans go, and I’m reading them from March 2018, these projects are still sitting at 2042 (to begin construction)," said Battle. "Promises have to be more than just talking about them. We have to follow through with them. There is a promise to us, and there is a promise to I-10. We need to follow through with these."
Also pouncing was Scott Dawson, the Birmingham evangelist who another Republican candidate for governor.
In a statement to AL.com, Dawson said that politicians on the campaign trail cannot alter road plans to appease people in certain regions of the state.
"I realize that with Toyota-Mazda, Huntsville’s I-565 can expect traffic increases, but I also know that Huntsville has had its fair share of recent road projects," Dawson said. "I-65 is terrible and I-10 needs prioritized expansion because beach tourism brings millions of dollars of revenue which benefit the entire state."
He added, "We have a road plan already in Alabama, groundwork is happening for future projects, and work is getting done on current projects. A politician on the trail can’t just change up the priorities by the minute."