Proposed new Baldwin County beach bridge spurs lawsuits, public activism

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The battle over bridges continues in Baldwin County where an $87 million state-funded bridge project is being blamed for wasting taxpayer funds and diverting much-needed state resources away from other critical state infrastructure projects.

Under fire is Director John Cooper of the Alabama Department of Transportation (ALDOT) for his plans to build a new bridge connecting the Foley Beach Express to Canal Road in Orange Beach.

On one side of the argument is the Baldwin County Bridge Company (BCBC) a subsidiary of American Roads LLC, the company that was brought in as a private-public partnership to build and operate the Foley Beach Express — a toll bridge as an alternative to Highway 59. The toll was 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.

In support of the bridge, “We have to be able to move traffic., we’ve got to be able to evacuate and we have to be able to grow,” Orange Beach Mayor Tony Kennon told AL.com. “One bridge with a toll does not help us do that.” Kennon has long been an active critic of the toll road, going on the record hoping the owners previous financial troubles would mean the city could buy the bridge at a low cost.

Last summer, to help satisfy frustrations American Roads unveiled their “Beach Express, GO!” initiative, which included lowering tolls throughout the summer, and even “lifting” the tolls during peak congestion times around concerts and widely attended events as part of their 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.

And after a year of debate, local officials last August settled on widening the existing Foley Beach Express bridge with a third lane that will be reversible depending on traffic needs rather than building a third bridge to help ease congestion. But ultimately negotiations broke down when ALDOT requested that the BCBC give the city of Orange Beach the bridge at no cost. Thus, plans for the additional bridge resurfaced.

BCBC Complaint filed

BCBC complaint filed against the State of Alabama in the Baldwin County Probate Court in Bay Minette.

Which is why the BCBC has filed a complaint against the State of Alabama. Filed on April 2, the BCBC is objecting the ALDOT’S petition to “unjustifiably” take BCBC’s property “by eminent domain.”

Outside push-back

Some Baldwin County residents are pushing back against the bridge as well.

A 600-plus member Facebook group dubbed the Bridge2Nowhere says it has opposed the project since it was first suggested in 2015.

The group’s leader, a 25 year resident of the Gulf Shores/Orange Beach area, Joseph Emerson believes people are being misled to think the bridge is a necessary solution to the traffic congestion. The group is actively opposed to the use of eminent domain to take land and properties the state will need for this bridge.

Emerson is active on Facebook debunking rumors and myths about the additional bridge and pushing back against DOT and the Mayor’s justifications.

“I keep seeing interviews of people saying, ‘We need a bridge because the traffic is so bad.’ PEOPLE! THINK!,” Emerson posted. “Without a north/south access to the beach… traffic will be compounded not alleviated. This bridge project is not a solution!”

ALDOT has not responded to Alabama Today for comment.

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