Saturday, January 18, 2020

ALDOT and bridge proponents are still NOT LISTENING

The problem with the Mobile River Bridge & Bayway Project is NOT the toll. The problem is much deeper and more complex than that. At any toll rate, even zero, the MRB&B Project represents a bad investment for Mobile & Baldwin Counties, the State of Alabama, the region and the Nation.

In August 2019, the Eastern Shore Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) voted to remove the Mobile River Bridge & Bayway Project from its Transportation Improvement Plan (TIP), effectively blocking federal funding for the project. The impetus for that vote was the product of public opposition to a proposed $3 to $6 one way toll to finance a project with a need that was never clearly established. The Facebook Block the Mobile Bayway Toll Group mobilized public opposition and made it clear to local elected figures that they were having none of this foolishness.

Now comes a news report detailing how ALDOT thinks that a "much cheaper toll" would be ok. These people at ALDOT and local proponents are still not listening.

Weeks before that fateful vote, this blog argued that the toll was never the real problem. The real problem was in the planning, engineering and design of a Taj Mahal bridge and bayway system that's not necessary and would never be economically feasible.
This project's problem isn't the toll. This project's problem is a failure to meet a basic NEPA requirement to evaluate a full range of alternatives. It won't be the tolling pain that kills the project. It will be the NEPA failure.

By now, it should be clear that nowhere in the public process of preparing the necessary NEPA documents is it stated that this project's economic benefits are equal to or greater than its costs.

The Benefit-Cost Ratio is a mathematical expression of a project's worth to taxpayers. A BCR greater than 1-to-1 means that the project will improve our economic well being. A BCR less than 1-to-1 means that the project will harm our economic well being. A toll would only make our state's agony worse.

Until this project's BCR is proven to be greater than 1.0, the statement "the cost of doing nothing is too high" is patently false.
In layman's terms, ALDOT designed and engineered a bridge and bayway system that would have been overbuilt. They failed to acknowledge that there is a level of storm surge damage risk that we are willing to accept. That level of risk is far higher than what ALDOT was asking us to pay for.

From an economics perspective, the project will suck more money from our local and regional economy than it ever could hope to pay for in more businesses, jobs and tax revenue.

ALDOT deliberately withheld information about the project during the public review period.

ALDOT also inadvertently disclosed what would have been the recommended plan had they accepted the fact that they were proposing an unnecessary behemoth of a project. They withheld information they knew we needed and accidentally disclosed information that showed their lack of candor.

Here is my full review of the Environmental Impact Statement for the project.

Here is an Economic Impact Fact Sheet showing that even with a reduced toll, the project is still a proposal for economic disaster.

The project will not go forward under the NEPA document ALDOT attempted to foist off on the public. Try it, and we'll see it aired out in federal court.


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