See update below.
Make no mistake about it--Wednesday's unanimous vote to table all items related to construction of ALDOT's Transportation Tax Scheme represents a major setback.
The vote by the Mobile Metropolitan Planning Organization to approve the whole Transportation Improvement plan was quietly expected to sail through a process mandated by a federal law known as MAP-21. Succinctly, MAP-21 requires federal spending to be approved by a local transportation planning group, in this case the South Alabama Regional Planning Commission's MPO.
However, the Facebook Group Block the Mobile Bayway Toll got wind of the gravity of Wednesday's decision and quickly swung into action. MPO members (almost all of whom are locally elected officials) were deluged with comments and fervent requests to either table or remove the specific projects related to the Transportation Tax Scheme.
The MPO carefully and openly considered the merits of the public's concerns and called timeout.
The items tabled today will be held in abeyance until after Alabama Toll Road, Bridge, and Tunnel Authority holds a special meeting on October 7, 2019. ALDOT may not receive or spend any funds on the tabled items until they're approved.
First, this is a setback because this delay likely wrecks ALDOT's schedule. The three private sector contractors cannot submit their final proposals until all clearances have been received. ALDOT had planned to receive those proposals by the end of the calendar year and award a contract in early 2020. That looks unlikely.
Second, this delay also gives creative minds about six weeks to come up with different design and funding concepts for the project. It also gives ALDOT time to conduct at least a cursory coastal storm surge risk analysis on the Bayway modification vs replacement controversy.
This will force project planners to reconsider their alternatives analysis and that in turn has a likelihood of resulting in at least an addendum to the environmental documents approved on August 16. This is another schedule wrecker.
Further, this gives steadfast and well-funded bridge opponents more time to prepare their complaints and file their lawsuits against the project. Those lawsuits will happen if ALDOT and FHWA try to move this project forward as is.
So yes, Wednesday's decision was a very big deal.
Update: The implications on the project schedule were made explicit yesterday by ALDOT Director John Cooper. Cooper was in an informational meeting with area elected officials held after the MPO meeting:
ALDOT’s Transportation Director John Cooper says Mobile Metropolitan Planning Organization’s (MPO) decision to table the vote for funding and the Eastern Shore MPO's consideration to remove the project from the transportation improvement plan (TIP) stops them from requesting proposals. It's tricky because he says officials would want a final proposal first before putting it back in the TIP.
"We can't deliver on what you have asked us to do in the position you have put us in," Cooper said. "We can't bring you a final plan without it in the TIP."Just as I said. The schedule is wrecked.