Gulf of Mexico
The river / ship channel overseen by the Alabama State Port Authority. Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey's infrastructure program financed through a proposed 10-cent increase in the state's gasoline tax. (John Sharp/jsharp@al.com).

Alabama widens Mobile shipping channel to boost entire state economy

Republican lawmakers who backed the 10-cent-per-gallon gas tax increase know that various irate constituents might be waiting at home to give them an earful on their spring break next week. But the coastal Alabama contingent will be able to point to a very tangible benefit from their supportive votes: A deepening and widening of the Mobile ship channel.

Tax revenue from the giant Rebuild Alabama infrastructure package will supply the necessary state match for the Alabama State Port Authority’s $400 million ship channel project.

It was the only the only specifically named project in Rebuild Alabama, and the only one that wasn’t a road or bridge.

“When that wound up in the bill, there was no way to vote against it,” said state Rep. Chris Pringle, R-Mobile.

‘Good deal’

Some coastal lawmakers say the inclusion of the port project got them on board with the state’s first fuel tax increase since 1992. The tax revenue will supply $150 million for the channel work.

“My colleagues in the Legislature believe … that coastal Alabama got quite a good deal in the infrastructure bill,” said state Sen. Chris Elliott, R-Daphne. “I think so as well.”

Alabama State Port Authority CEO Jimmy Lyons sees the state’s channel match not so much as a political win as a necessity. He said Mobile faces fierce competition from other deep water ports, such as Savannah, Georgia, and Charleston, South Carolina.

Without a bigger channel, Alabama could get left behind, he said.

“That’s the reality of it,” said Lyons, referring to the need to accommodate larger ships after the opening of an expanded Panama Canal in 2016. “The benefits go all over the state, and the industries realize that and that is why there was the legislative support.”

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