Setting an example other states can follow: Foley Beach Bridge is working.

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Small government voters and elected officials throughout the nation, but especially here in our ultra-conservative state, are constantly touting smaller government and innovative public-private partnerships as the often untapped solution to most of our fundamental problems. Why invest in big government, taxpayer funded solutions when there are industries who can do the job usually faster, cheaper and more efficiently?

We’re in a state of emergency with our nation’s infrastructure — of that there’s no doubt. To remedy this state’s across the nation have begun passing gas tax increases. But not in Alabama. Here, the Alabama Legislature has clung hard to it red-state ideals and avoided tax hikes, instead seeking alternative solutions including finding ways to maximize federal dollars and partner with companies interested in investing in the Yellowhammer State. Such is the case with the Foley Beach Express Bridge to Orange Beach.

There, the state brought in American Roads LLC to build and operate a toll bridge as an alternative to Highway 59. The toll is intended to save travelers time and money. Rather than sitting in congested traffic and waiting for over 25 stop lights on the highway, the Foley Beach Express allows drivers to cruise to the beach, all the while bringing in much-needed funds for local infrastructure improvement.

After a year of debate of both impractical and costly solutions, such a building a pricey third bridge to help ease congestion, local officials have settled on widening the existing Foley Beach Express bridge with a third lane that will be reversible depending on traffic needs.

As reported by Al.Com, among the solutions offered by American Roads is their initiative “Beach Express, GO!”, which included lowering tolls throughout the summer, and even “lift” the tolls during peak congestion times around concerts and widely attended events. These being among the first steps in a comprehensive plan to work with the state and community to provide the safest and most efficient service to those headed to or from the beach this summer and beyond.

“After Labor Day, we will start construction for the improvements, including adding a third, reversible lane on the bridge to accommodate two lanes of traffic in one direction, as well as widening the toll plaza and part of the southbound Foley Beach Express by the plaza. Electronic trolling will further help by eliminating the need to stop for toll payment,” Neal Belitsky, chief executive officer of American Roads, told local TV station Fox 10.

This solution provides another look at the way that local partnerships are suppose to work. Without threats and bullying and big government solutions but instead a rational and deliberative process — to allow the private sector continue to manage the problem. The new lane will provide all the benefits that another bridge would, and rather than forcing taxpayers statewide to fund a solution, only the people who use the bridge will pay for it via the tolls.

Nevertheless, some in government continue to privately advocate for a public, non-tolled, bridge to the coast.

Which begs the question? Why?

Why in a state with a perennial budget shortfall, do we have any state officials think a statewide taxpayer solution is the way to go?

The new lane should be the answer. In fact, it is the answer. The debate should stop here. Alabama is on the forefront of showing the rest of the country that private public partnerships can and do work. Let’s let that be the bottom line.

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