Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Final Nail: Eastern Shore officials vote to formally kill the Mobile River Bridge & Bayway project

Alabama Governor Kay Ivey declared the toll bridge project "dead" right after the August 28, 2019 Eastern Shore Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) adopted a resolution pledging to remove it.

The MPO made it official today:
The last bureaucratic hurdle toward killing off the state’s $2.1 billion Interstate 10 Mobile River Bridge and Bayway project was cleared Wednesday with little fanfare.

Elected officials in Baldwin County, however, expressed “cautious optimism” about what might come next in exploring alternative ways of alleviating predicted gridlock on I-10.

With voice approval, the Eastern Shore Metropolitan Planning Commission adopted its fiscal year 2020-23 Transportation Improvement Plan, or TIP. The plan is a crucial document that details transportation priorities for the next four years.
 Although the Governor's declaration made the project a political improbability, the project was actually in a technical stasis. The Federal Highway Administration was the lead agency for the conduct and  submission of the  project's Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement. 

That environmental document and its Record of Decision (ROD) was finalized on August 16. On August 30, FHWA quietly filed a final notice formally ending the National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA) process and starting a mandatory time limit on litigation related to the agency's decision to move forward.

Alabama had declared it dead. Washington still had boxes to check.

Today's formal vote to remove the project from its TIP also formally removed it from being considered for federal funding. It went from technical stasis to both politically and technically dead. It is now dead, Dead, DEAD.

If this all sounds a little confusing, don't be alarmed.

In order for a federal project to move to construction, it has to be approved by the lead federal agency and it has to be eligible for federal funding. A project that gets approved is only halfway there. The Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act, or MAP-21, requires local political control over the projects that are planned for their area. If it doesn't get that local support, the project can't be funded so it can't be built, approved or not.

ALDOT and FWHA got approval ahead of funding in their project schedule. Funding authorization required public involvement just like the EIS did. Had they gotten inclusion in the TIP done before completing the environmental documentation, we would certainly be in a different mode right now.

It was the work of the Block the Mobile Bayway Toll group on Facebook that made this happen, folks. The Group proved that We the People are smarter than their alleged betters gave them credit for. The People uncovered obscure provisions in an obscure law. They followed the advice of group members with expertise in said law, contacted the right people, made the right requests (LOUDLY), and coaxed their local elected representatives to smack ALDOT right upside its wobbly head.

Well done, y'all.


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