On Tuesday, July 19, 2018, the Alabama Department of Transportation (ALDOT) hosted a community meeting at the Robert Hope Community Center in Africatown about its plans to include a tolling component in the proposed I-10 Bridge and associated Bayway reconstruction.
Participants in that meeting raised numerous concerns not only about the possibility of traffic that would avoid the proposed toll on the I-10 Bridge and the Wallace Tunnel but also about existing conditions of traffic in the community that regularly results in difficulties and dangers for residents. Participants also requested that ALDOT commit to another community meeting to expand participation.
A second ALDOT community meeting was held on Tuesday, March 19, 2019 during which ALDOT announced that a study had found that toll aversion traffic would dramatically increase traffic through the Africatown community to levels otherwise not anticipated for several decades in the future.
To reiterate the concerns raised by community members at these meetings, several Africatown-based community organizations (Africatown~CHESS and Mobile County Training High School Alumni Association), places of worship (Yorktown Missionary Baptist Church and Union Missionary Baptist Church), and regional advocacy organizations (MEJAC and the Center for Fair Housing) collaborated on the following letter and sought support from other regional advocacy organizations (Mobile Branch NAACP Unit #5044 and Sierra Club, Mobile Bay Group).
It’s important due to its historical mistreatment at the hands of regional planners that Africatown be given particularly close attention before moving ahead with infrastructure projects that will add to the hardship that Africatown residents already face.
Thursday, May 2, 2019
Community Relations, Alabama Department of Transportation
701 St. Francis Street, Suite 2100
Mobile, Alabama 36602
Dear Ms. Gregg,
We, the below signed Africatown residents and regional advocates, are very concerned about how the proposed I-10 Toll Bridge & Tunnel will contribute negatively to traffic patterns through the community.
We all appreciated the workshops held in our community on Tuesday, July 19, 2018 and Tuesday, March 19, 2019 to better inform residents about the planning process and seek consultative feedback. We think ongoing dialogue about our concerns is necessary, and we look forward to productive conversations about our concerns.
To reiterate many of the concerns raised at these meetings, historic Africatown already experiences many negative impacts from the current traffic arrangement. These include difficulty leaving the neighborhood during rush hour traffic, traffic lights that are unresponsive, noxious air quality, high levels of heavy truck and hazardous cargo traffic, high speed traffic on Bay Bridge Road/Africatown Boulevard, and too few safe pedestrian crossing locations. Many in the community are rightfully wary of massive government-led infrastructure projects due to the sometimes profoundly negative impacts of poor planning and the lack of consideration for the kinds of adjustments the community is forced to make in response.
Based on the plans we have seen, praise is due for the future reintroduction of a four way traffic signal in front of Union Baptist Church at the intersection of Africatown Boulevard and Bay Bridge Cutoff Road, but we would also like to see these traffic lights and the existing set at Magazine Street at the foot of the Cochrane-Africatown USA Bridge to be on timers during periods of high traffic. Although the sensor-driven lights at Magazine Street have improved recently, there were years where they failed consistently, leaving residents and industry commuters with little choice but to run the light, endangering others. The current arrangement also allows traffic through the community to be moving dangerously fast for the kinds of land use along the at-grade interstate bypass corridor, which include historic tourist attractions, churches, and homes.
We are also looking for a much stronger emphasis put on pedestrian safety given the number of people who regularly cross Africatown Boulevard on foot. Responsive crosswalks should be installed not just at the Africatown Boulevard and Magazine Point intersection, but also at the Intersection of Africatown Boulevard and Bay Bridge Cutoff Road, where historic tourist attractions encourage pedestrian traffic but where the sheer danger today is a deterrent to the full enjoyment of the existing attractions. Pedestrian traffic at this location will only increase with the development of a new Africatown Welcome Center, proposed on the site of the former Welcome Center across from the historic Old Plateau Cemetery.
We also find it baffling that currently Bay Bridge Road at I-165 has a posted speed limit of 40 miles per hour, but as soon as the interstate bypass transitions into Africatown Boulevard headed eastbound, the posted speed limit goes up to 45 miles per hour despite there often being a greater concentration of pedestrian and residential traffic along the road on Africatown Boulevard. Unfortunately as any Africatown resident will attest, traffic passing through our community often travels at speeds much higher than the posted 45 miles per hour limit and law enforcement is never seen enforcing traffic law along the road. Instead of an increase for eastbound traffic, as it allows now, we would like to see traffic slowed to 35 miles per hour along Africatown Boulevard. To reiterate, this will help us facilitate the safety of tourists whose pedestrian traffic we hope to increase along that corridor for existing attractions such as the historic Union Baptist Church and our historic Old Plateau Cemetery as well as future heritage tourist attractions.
In order to aid in slowing traffic and to alert drivers headed westbound on the Cochrane- Africatown USA Bridge to the residential nature of the community they are entering at the foot of the bridge, we recommend a caution light at the crest of the bridge warning drivers that a light awaits at the foot of the bridge and reminding drivers of the Africatown Boulevard’s maximum speed limit. Rumble strips at the foot of the bridge coming into the residential neighborhood may also be appropriate.
ALDOT’s overall projected increase in traffic along Africatown Boulevard has raised concerns about air pollution and public health, as well. All emerging air quality science points to alarming increases in stroke risk for all who breathe auto and diesel exhaust even momentarily. To monitor the impacts to public health, appropriate air monitors should be installed somewhere along the Africatown Boulevard corridor, as well.
Additionally, we recognize data gaps when it comes to the types of traffic documented along Africatown Boulevard. ALDOT has asserted a belief that overall Hazardous Cargo tonnage moving through Africatown would decrease with the opening of a potential I-10 Toll Bridge and Tunnel. This is a potential traffic pattern that advocates and residents would love to be able to champion, however, we believe that assertions coming from ALDOT like these should be backed up by available data in order to monitor the real effect of the proposed I-10 Toll Bridge and Tunnel. We insist that any traffic studies executed include the collection of data about the types of traffic, specifically documenting the Hazardous Cargo traffic flow through Africatown in order to be able to compare actual numbers before and after potential construction.
Massive government infrastructure projects with touted regional benefits have negatively impacted the Africatown community in the past, sometimes profoundly. For instance, the construction of the Cochrane-Africatown USA Bridge and the related expansion of Bay Bridge Road (now partly Africatown Boulevard) saw the demolition or removal of many homes and small business storefronts from historic Africatown. Replacement properties for these community-serving businesses along the new corridor were never afforded, and the Africatown community has since gone without community-serving businesses along what is now Africatown Boulevard for several generations.
As we understand, the potential I-10 Toll Bridge and Tunnel will assess tolls upon drivers via a Private/Public Partnership between ALDOT and a private-sector vendor. Not only will expansion of existing road capacity allow for an increase in traffic along I-10 proper, which would negatively impact communities along the existing I-10 corridor, the potential toll avoidance traffic along the only toll-free alternate routes will almost certainly negatively impact communities living along those routes like Africatown.
As most who come to familiarize themselves with Africatown resident needs and priorities quickly recognize, Africatown residents and regional advocates can easily identify more capital improvement projects than there is available money to pay for them. Given the capital improvement needs of Africatown and of similarly-situated communities who are impacted negatively from their proximity to existing and future interstate traffic flows along I-10, we as Africatown residents and regional advocates insist upon the creation of a Community Benefits Agreement between the communities most directly impacted by existing and future I-10 traffic and any potential Private/Public Partnership.
The communities involved should include any community affected by toll avoidance traffic as well as those impacted by the potential I-10 Toll Bridge and Tunnel itself, such as Africatown, Down the Bay, and downtown Mobile, as well as Spanish Fort.
The goal of a Community Benefits Agreement of this nature would be to require that a portion of the revenue raised by a potential I-10 Toll Bridge and Tunnel be reinvested into directly- affected communities like Africatown to ensure that the burden imposed is appropriately acknowledged and compensated. In Africatown, this reinvestment would be a step in the right direction to address the profoundly negative impacts from past ALDOT infrastructure projects constructed through the neighborhood for regional benefit.
To recap, with respect to Africatown Boulevard and any potential I-10 Toll Bridge and Tunnel, we wish to see:
- Timed traffic lights at the intersections of Africatown Boulevard and Magazine St/Tin Top Alley and Bay Bridge Cutoff Road;
- Responsive pedestrian cross walks at the intersections of Africatown Boulevard and Magazine St/Tin Top Alley and Bay Bridge Cutoff Road;
- The speed limit on Africatown Boulevard lowered to 35 mph;
- A speed caution light at the crest of the Cochrane-Africatown USA bridge warning of the traffic light at the bridge’s base;
- A rumble strip on the bridge’s descent to encourage westbound bridge traffic to slow in its approach to historic Africatown;
- Installation of appropriate air quality monitors along the traffic corridor;
- A long-term traffic study that documents existing and future Hazardous Cargo traffic flow along Africatown Boulevard;
- A commitment in the form of a contractual Community Benefits Agreement requiring a portion of toll revenue be reinvested into the communities directly impacted by potential I-10 Toll Bridge and Tunnel traffic flows and toll avoidance routes like Africatown.
We look forward to an acknowledgement of receipt of this comment and to future productive dialogue about our concerns
Executive Director, Clean Healthy Educated Safe & Sustainable Africatown
Reverend Christopher L. Williams
Pastor, Yorktown Missionary Baptist Church
Reverend Derek Tucker
Pastor, Union Missionary Baptist Church
Executive Director, Center for Fair Housing
President, Mobile County Training High School Alumni Association
President, Mobile Branch NAACP Unit #5044
Chair, Sierra Club, Mobile Bay Group
President, Mobile Environmental Justice Action Coalition