“We’re going to get this bridge built” said Congressman Bradley Byrne at the Mobile Area Chamber of Commerce Forum meeting on Tuesday, May 26th. Congressman Byrne stepped in for U.S. Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx to discuss updates regarding the I-10 Bridge project with local elected officials, the Build the I-10 Bridge Coalition, and Coastal Alabama Partnership. Secretary Foxx was unable to attend the meeting due to inclement weather.
At the breakfast meeting, Congressman Byrne began by giving a brief overview of the actions taken thus far with the I-10 Bridge project. He stated that the critical moment in moving this bridge forward was the release of the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) in summer 2014. Since its release, Alabama Department of Transportation (ALDOT) hosted two public hearings, received comments, and is currently working on the Final EIS scheduled to be released within the next year. In addition, the Federal Highway Administration has given ALDOT permission to move forward with the design phase as the EIS is finalized, an action that is expected to eliminate a year or so off the time of completion for the project.
Beyond physically constructing the bridge, the question everyone is asking is how it will be funded. Projects of this magnitude are usually funded jointly by the federal and state government. However, due to the reduction in revenue from gas taxes and the budget crisis at the state level, Congressman Byrne stressed the need to consider other methods of funding. Options presented at the federal level include enacting a long term highway bill, increasing the gas tax, and a tax reform proposal that will tax income from companies established overseas for transportation infrastructure in the United States. “Building roads and bridges is an essential function of the federal government” said Congressman Byrne and he fully supports the implementation of a long term highway bill.
State level options include receiving increased revenue from offshore energy production as outlined in the Gulf of Mexico Energy Security Act (GOMESA) program. Congressman Byrne stated that revenue from this program could close the gap on the funding necessary from the state to build the I-10 Bridge. The congressman acknowledged some of the concerns about the bridge, including its visual impacts on Mobile’s historic downtown. Referencing bridges built in other historic areas around the country, Congressman Byrne said that “you can build a bridge that will look alright in a historic area.”
Congressman Byrne concluded his speech will a call for the leadership of Mobile and Baldwin counties to continue to work together on this project. “The strength of this community is that we hang together” said Congressman Byrne, and everyone’s cooperation is essential to make this bridge a reality. He passed along Secretary Foxx’s sincere apology for his absence and reiterated that the secretary will return to Mobile in the near future to speak with the region’s leadership on this issue.