Officials consider tolls for proposed elevated highway in Alabama

| 1/4/2008

Transportation officials in Alabama are considering tolls to pay for proposed elevated lanes in busy southeast Birmingham.

Congestion relief is the driving force behind the proposal for 10 miles of elevated lanes to be constructed in the median of U.S. 280 between the Elton B. Stephens Expressway and the Eagle Point Parkway in Jefferson and Shelby counties.

Alabama Department of Transportation spokesman Tony Harris said area residents and elected officials spent years in a stalemate until area governments formed the Progress 280 Task Force in 2001.

The 24-member panel of civic leaders is forging ahead with the elevated-lane proposal, calling on Figg Engineering of Tallahassee, FL, to design the project, gain public input and recommend a funding mechanism.

Harris says tolling is a strong option.

“All of us in transportation are coming to the reality that toll-funded construction has to be considered,” Harris told Land Line during a telephone interview on Friday, Jan. 4.

He said it’s too early to comment on whether the state DOT will build and operate the lanes or whether the project will be outsourced to the private sector.

Alabama currently does not have any tolled highways but the state does have four privately built bridges that are tolled. Harris said transportation officials will keep the door open for tolling in a few other construction projects. Tolling is not being considered for existing infrastructure, he said.

Harris said tolls will be considered to pay for a proposed connector highway from U.S. 231 near Dothan, AL, to Interstate 10 in Florida.

Tolls will also be considered for a new I-10 bridge at Mobile Bay slated to cost between $800 million and $1 billion, Harris said.

A bill introduced in March 2007 in the Alabama House would have increased the powers of the Alabama Toll Road, Bridge, and Tunnel Authority to develop partnerships with the state DOT and private investors for constructing toll projects. The bill, HB121, passed in the House but died in a Senate committee.

The 2008 session begins Feb. 5. As of Friday, Jan. 4, there was no pre-filed legislation relating to tolls.

– By David Tanner, staff writer