Rendering of the proposed I-10 Mobile River Bridge.

Those Bells you hear? They are tolls that will strangle the golden goose.

Ok so I am mixing metaphors just a little bit, but it does illustrate my point. The proposed tolls by ALDOT on the I-10 Mobile River Bridge and Bayway Project and the toll proposed by the Alabama Legislature on the Baldwin Beach Express extension could bring to an end the consecutive string of years of record tourism and growth on Alabama’s beaches since the BP oil spill. The implementation of both projects as planned will result in three toll roads and bridges to Orange Beach and Gulf Shores. The question you have to ask yourself, is there a better way?

If We Keep The Tolls

If ALDOT, the Alabama Legislature and Baldwin County Commission are determined to toll these ‘new roadways’ then there is a better way to do it that doesn’t put the majority of the burden of tolls primarily driven by out of towners on local motorists.

First, if the $6 per trip toll on Interstate 10 is implemented, according to ALDOT’s vehicle count estimates, the 55 year tolling period would generate between $15-$20 billion dollars. Comparably, if ALDOT bonded (borrowed) the entire cost of both projects on a 30-year loan, they would only have to pay back about $5 billion after interest. Which number sounds better for the taxpayers of Alabama?

Using ALDOT’s vehicle count estimates, a $4 per trip toll for 30 years would cover that cost and the administrative costs of the toll. Also, there has been no mention of having a monthly pass where motorists can pay a flat rate for unlimited travel on these roads.

If We Don’t Use The Tolls

There has been a discussion of using some of the recently passed gas tax money to help defray some of the cost of the project. There has even been the suggestion of using Gulf of Mexico Energy Security Act (GOMESA) money, which is money generated from federal oil and gas leases in the Gulf of Mexico, to help defray the cost even more. The idea of having Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL) secure more federal funding for the project over the paltry 7% that is currently projected to be a part of the I-10 project.

All of those funding sources would go a long way in reducing the overall financial burden a new funding source would have to carry. But let’s face it, a new funding source will be required for both projects, the I-10 project and the Baldwin Beach Express extension, because the I-10 project cost is larger than the annual budget for ALDOT for the entire state!

In 2017, the state of Alabama generated over $250 million from the local portion of the state’s hotel lodging and short-term rental tax. It is entirely possible that if we doubled the local share of the hotel, lodging, and short-term rental taxes (2%) statewide, we could generate around $200 million a year in new revenue. A 30-year bond could generate $6 billion, which would more than pay back a bond for these two projects.

There are plenty of other options that the state hasn’t explored for funding these two projects, and with reports that finding alternative funding sources isn’t a priority, that you have to ask yourself, what investments do those in the state government have in toll companies?

David Preston
David is a small business owner and contributing columnist to BamaPolitics.com. He attended the University of South Alabama and studied political science. He ran for his first and only political office in the city of Daphne, Alabama for city council where he lost by less than 200 votes to a sitting incumbent. David has a passion for all levels of politics, aviation, business development and recruitment, history (his dad drug him to Civil War battlefield for Summer vacation instead of Disney world and six flags) and the Mobile region.