‘Sure the money is there’: Lt. Gov. Will Ainsworth says state has money for I-10
Alabama Lt. Gov. Will Ainsworth said he believes there are sources of funding available within the state government apparatus that could be used to fund the Project 2, $ 1 billion on the Interstate 10 Mobile River Bridge and Bayway.
It’s a part of the state that is booming, ”Ainsworth, a Guntersville Republican, said in remarks to the Mobile County GOP executive committee on Monday. “We have to invest in this. The same (can be said) for Huntsville, Tuscaloosa and Auburn. These areas are growing.
He added: “These areas are growing. The state is doing well. We have $ 700 million in new dollars in the (Education Trust Fund). The General Fund is doing well. We have the money to do it. This must be a DOT priority. Sure, the money is there.
But the chairman of the Senate education budget committee said using education money for a transport project was not an initiative, in his opinion.
“That, or any bridge, would be too far a bridge to use education funding in this way,” State Senator Arthur Orr, R-Decatur said.
State Senator Greg Albritton, R-Atmore and Chairman of the Senate General Fund Committee said there would be “an unusual amount” of surplus in the State General Fund which could be used for various needs. . He said “the General Fund is doing better than it ever has” and serious discussions will be needed on how to prioritize funding.
He said he was unaware of Ainsworth’s remarks. He also said the Alabama Department of Transportation and the two metropolitan planning organizations – in Mobile and the east coast of Baldwin County – had not asked him any questions or inquiries about public funding for the bridge project.
“It would seem like the state when we have the amount of money that appears to be available, that we look at what the needs are and try to prioritize a little better than what we’re doing,” Albritton said. “This is part of the problem we have with two separate budgets (the General Fund and the Education Trust Fund or ETF). “
The review on how the massive project in coastal Alabama will be funded is expected to increase in the coming months. Representatives of the two DFOs, before the Christmas recess, announced an agreement for the funding framework for the project. They impose a toll of $ 2.50 on users of the new bridge and the elevated Bayway connecting Mobile to Baldwin counties, as long as the Wallace Tunnel and Fort Spanish Causeway remain duty-free.
ALDOT has not weighed on an alternative financial plan. In 2019, a previous public-private partnership proposal to fund the project collapsed under criticism of a plan to assess a $ 6 one-way toll for the bridge and Bayway, as well as the Wallace Tunnel. The project was declared “dead” that year, but it has since resurfaced as a top priority for regional leaders.
So far, $ 125 million has been committed for the project through a federal grant from Infrastructure for Rebuilding America (INFRA). The money is set aside for construction and must be used by September. Officials fear that if the grant is not cleared for construction by next year, it could be taken over by the US Department of Transportation.
The only other funding commitment is a non-federal state grant of at least $ 250 million and a $ 300 million federal loan that would be repaid with toll revenues.
“There is a growing consensus that the problem of traffic congestion across Mobile Bay must be addressed,” said Tony Harris, spokesperson for ALDOT. “The state stands ready to provide significant financial support to a plan and deeply appreciates the role of local leaders and other officials in finding a solution.”
Fairhope City Councilor Jack Burrell, who chairs the Eastern Shore DFO Policy Committee, said he doubted the project would attract additional federal funding, but was confident about additional resources from the ‘State.
“I don’t know if anyone has explored the education fund,” Burrell said. “But we have had specific meetings with ALDOT about other sources of funding. For example, is there money in the oil and gas trust fund that we cannot use but could use? Can you borrow at low interest? Or can we go to (Retirement Systems of Alabama) and ask them if they want to invest in the bridge? “
He added: “We have looked at the sources of funding. “
Burrell said in conversations local officials have had with ALDOT, the backlash from state leaders has been open.
“I don’t remember them just slamming the idea,” Burrell said. “We’re at least coming up with ideas for other ways to fund or fund.”