What will happen to the existing I-10 Bayway along the Alabama coast?

The Interstate 10 Bayway that runs just over seven miles from Mobile to Daphne will be demolished after a new bayway is built and opened by 2028.

Built in 1977, the existing Bayway is considered “an aging structure” by state officials and will be removed from service once the new Bayway is built, according to state officials.

Keeping the existing Bayway, state officials say, could alter the recently revealed $2.7 billion project so much that federal funding would be at risk.

And without federal funding, the entire project probably wouldn’t happen.

“The State of Alabama is required to raise the level of the Bayway to obtain federal approval and it is likely that a decision to retain the existing Bayway would minimally alter the scope of federally approved work to the point require a new environmental impact statement and result in the loss of federal funding for the project,” said Tony Harris, spokesman for the Alabama Department of Transportation.

Free until 2028

The fate of the current Bayway is part of ongoing analysis of a project that requires support from the Mobile and Eastern Shore metropolitan planning organizations. The existing Bayway, until the new project is completed, will remain a toll-free route.

Both DFOs are made up of elected officials from city and county governments who are scheduled to vote July 27 on whether to include the new I-10 project in the short- and long-range planning documents. The project must be added to DFO plans to receive federal funding.

ALDOT agrees to leave a toll-free route, which would be the Spanish Fort Causeway. The Wallace and Bankhead Tunnels and the Africatown USA Bridge would also be toll free.

The Wallace Tunnel in Mobile, Alabama, as pictured Friday, May 13, 2022. (John Sharp/[email protected]).

The Wallace Tunnel, which is currently part of I-10, would be reconfigured to exit motorists onto the roadway. The route will remain free for eastbound motorists as long as they continue to drive along the causeway in Baldwin County.

Motorists will have the option of exiting onto the new Bayway at a “middle of the bay” point near where the current interchange is near Ralph and Kacoo’s restaurant. But if motorists take the new Bayway, they will be charged the full toll.

Only the new structures – the new Bayway and the bridge – will be evaluated according to ALDOT’s latest plans. For frequent I-10 users who obtain an ALGO pass, the toll rate will be $2.50 each way for most vehicles. A $40 monthly ALGO pass will also be allowed for those who travel frequently between Mobile and Baldwin counties.

For non-ALGO Pass users – or those described as infrequent I-10 users – the toll rate will be $5.50 for the typical vehicle (car, pickup truck, motorcycle, SUV, and van ).

State officials are still working out how the ALGO pass will be administered, but said it will be a model similar to the Peach Pass in Georgia or the Sun Pass in Florida. Details on what the pass will look like – a transponder or a sticker affixed to a windshield – have not been finalized. The initial fee for buying a pass is also unclear.

The existing Bayway will remain open and free during construction of the new Bayway and the 215-foot high bridge over the Mobile River.

Federal design standards

The removal of the existing bayway was part of the previous plan for the I-10 project. In 2019, state lawmakers blamed the redesign of the Bayway for soaring overall prices and a proposal at the time to assess a $6 one-way toll for motorists.

State officials said raising the Bayway only added an additional $350 million to overall costs. The overall price of the new Bayway, in 2019, was estimated at $880 million, just over 40% of the then price of $2.1 billion.

Renovating the existing Bayway to widen and strengthen it to withstand heavy storms was also deemed “more expensive” than building it new.

The nonpartisan American Association of State Highway Transportation Officials (AASHTO) was a key player in the state’s decision to build a new Bayway with a higher elevation. The organization developed the guidelines the Federal Highway Administration sets for building new bridges in areas vulnerable to coastal storms.

The guidelines, while not federal law, are recognized by the FHWA as the standard that states must meet to qualify their highway projects for federal funding.

The ALDOT design team, in 2019, performed a storm analysis that took into account sea level rise. The ALDOT team simulated 80 different hurricanes to produce a model of where the maximum storm surges could occur. The Bayway, depending on the models, was vulnerable to severe hurricanes such as Category 3 or higher.

Coastal engineers at the time predicted that Mobile and Baldwin counties had a “65-70%” chance of at least one catastrophic hurricane hitting the Mobile area within the next 100 years. Such a hurricane has yet to strike, although Hurricane Sally – which made landfall in September 2020 – was considered a powerful Category 2 storm that carved a path of destruction through Baldwin County and Mobile .

Harris, regarding the latest plan, said the new bridge and bayway both provide the “additional capacity needed for long-term growth” and address “elevation issues that are important to the Federal Highway Administration.”

Funding

Federal sources dominate funding for the new project. At $2.7 billion, the I-10 project would be the most expensive in state history. Funding includes:

  • $1.2 billion in bonds
  • $1.1 billion in federal loans under the Transportation Infrastructure Funding and Innovation Act (TIFIA).
  • $125 million from a federal Infrastructure for Rebuilding America (INFRA) grant awarded in 2019.
  • $500 million in a planned federal mega grant available under the bipartisan infrastructure plan signed by President Joe Biden in November.
  • At least $250 million in public funding.

About Harold Shirley

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