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Roadscapes Wednesday: George Wallace Tunnel


Over the last few days traffic in Mobile, AL has been a pain in the (you know what.)  The Bankhead Tunnel that opened in 1941 has been going through some construction repairs and maintenance and won’t reopen until early October.  So drivers have to use the  Cochrane–Africatown USA Bridge or the George Wallace Tunnel.  The George Wallace Tunnel is the main route for Interstate 10 and it opened in 1973.  The 4-lane tunnel was designed for 50,000 cars a day, but it typically carries 80,000 vehicles between downtown Mobile and the eastern shore.  That’s more than 29.2 million vehicles a year.  It was designed for 20 million a year.  So that means the tunnel sees traffic delays often; and when a vehicle breaks down or if there is an accident; good luck!  On normal traffic days the biggest problem is traffic that slows down while leaving the tunnel.  What is there to make you slow down; that is when you use your gas pedal to speed up!

Here are a few videos showing the George Wallace Tunnel.  You will notice the design flaws in the form of the bad curve on one side of the tunnel and no breakdown lanes if something happens.

The George Wallace Tunnel is the worst traffic choke point for the entire I-10 corridor that stretches from Jacksonville, FL to Los Angeles, CA.  And there has been talk from ALDOT to replace the tunnel with a new bridge.  Also in the plans is to widen the Jubilee Parkway (I-10) across Mobile Bay to 8-lanes to connect to this new bridge.  This all sounds good right?  But this is where the controversy begins; below is a map showing the proposed routes of the new bridge.

Many residents that live in the Mobile area does not want a new bridge built-in the downtown area.  The reasons they give are very good points since the proposed bridge’s potential visual and economic impact on the city could be harmed.  One argument is focused on the bridge’s height of roughly 500 feet (152 m), which would be taller than any other structure in the city except for the RSA Battle House Tower.  Another impact is the bridge would hamper large ships and projects from the Port of Mobile and prevent large cruise ships from accessing the newly built Alabama Cruise Terminal.

Other people don’t want the bridge because it would threaten the National Historic Landmark status of the Old Southern Market and Government Street Presbyterian Church, take business away from the USS ALABAMA, Maritime Museum, the cruise ship terminal, the new condominium development, Fort Conde, and the bridge would harm a host of Mobile landmarks.  The people want to re-develop downtown Mobile into a vibrant community and that means no new bridge.

Many people have asked why can’t the tunnels be re-built or the Cochrane-Africatown USA Bridge be used as a freeway alternate to I-10.  It is possible for the roads around the Cochrane Bridge to be upgraded to a freeway.  And it would give the Mobile area the freeway bypass it really needs. (I-210 anyone)  But this route would add many miles and driving time to people travelling on I-10.  Here is a video of the  Cochrane-Africatown USA Bridge.

One thing is for sure; something has to be done to solve the traffic problems in Mobile, AL. If it’s a new bridge, new tunnels, or using existing infrastructure, the traffic choke-point on I-10 has got to go away and soon!

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