Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Lagniappe story shows that the Block the Mobile Bayway Facebook group stopped a disaster

It's fitting that this nightmare story showed up in time for Halloween. It describes the hellish situation unsuspecting drivers found themselves in after choosing the "convenience" of toll-by-plate over the stop-and-pay lanes on the Foley Beach Express. It's scary stuff, y'all.

Stop now, and say a little prayer of thanks for the Block the Mobile Bayway Facebook Group. Without that group's efforts, the over-designed, ill-conceived and economically disastrous Mobile River Bridge & Bayway would be on its way to construction as you read this postThen, this madness would have become real in the near future for as many as 75,000 of you and your fellow citizens:
About 10 times he actually used the service, rolling through without stopping to pay. He said he mainly used it when he was taking his mother to the doctor, and rather than wait in line, he’d use the toll-by-plate lane. He waited and waited for a bill. When several bills finally arrived, they said he owed $365.

“I hadn’t seen a bill in so long I finally said to hell with it,” Coe said. “It was June when I used the toll. I called them in July and they said they still had nothing. I thought, ‘they’ll send me a bill sometime.’ The first notification I got was September and it told me I owed a bill, then another bill, then another bill and then another bill.

He’s a little leery about ever using the service again.
The story is behind Lagniappe paywall, but it's free in the analog print version.

Let's put this is perspective. The Foley Beach Express carries a small fraction of the traffic that the I-10 corridor carries across the Mobile River and Bay. The driver featured in the Lagniappe story waited three months for the gears of the Alabama state bureaucracy to churn-n-burn out a bill that came out to almost $40 per trip.

The MRB&B project was planning to move forward without a stop-and-pay option. In a "feature" touted by ALDOT as a benefit of its advanced concept and design, drivers would either pay via toll-by-plate or opt for installing a state-issued electronic transponder in your vehicle. "High tech extortion" is not too harsh a term for it.

Imagine the upheaval of having tens of thousands of stories just like the one in the Lagniappe piece. Imagine the Alabama Motor Vehicle Division being deluged by the toll bridge concessionaire with thousands of tag numbers every day of every week of every month. Then the concessionaire maybe, maybe not getting bills mailed out to the registered owners on time.

The Foley driver had to wait three months to get his bill. Would anyone like to take a stab at the over/under on the number of days between toll trip and toll bill for the average commuter on the MRB&B? If that's not scary enough for you imagine what the bill would be with a month's worth of commuting compounded by escalating and punitive "administrative fees" piled on top?

What if you can't pay it? What if the state suspends your license and registration? What if you lose your job because your car was impounded? Or what if your employer closes shop and moves away because of the economic burden of an infeasible boondoggle?

Would ALDOT start putting people in jail for not paying their tolls? What a monster...

Thankfully, the MRB&B project is dead, Dead, DEAD. No chance of Freddy (Cooper?) Kreuger coming back from the grave and restarting that reign of terror.

If anyone asks, "what happened to the toll bridge?" You tell them, "the Facebook Group got it killed."

The Facebook Group worked together in textbook grassroots fashion and stopped the hellish scenario from becoming a reality. The group was started by Alabama State Auditor Jim Ziegler and a handful of stalwart citizens using their personal accounts on Facebook.  It grew. It worked together. The group beat the odds and got the project killed using an obscure policy provision that no one else even knew existed.

ALDOT and powerful special interests could do nothing but watch helplessly as two boards of local elected officials obliterated a $2.1 billion boondoggle.

Defeating the project was a remarkable example of ordinary Americans working together to achieve a common goal. That goal was to prevent the Foley Beach Express toll-by-plate ordeal from becoming a nightmare for Mobile and Baldwin Counties.


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