Is John Cooper, the director of Alabama Department of Transportation, building a costly and unnecessary “Bridge to Nowhere?”
As a Magic 8-ball would say, “All signs point to yes.”
That’s the bottom line of multiple critics, according to an AL.com article this weekend. The story cites a legal filing filed by the owners of the Foley Beach Express, the toll-bridge built and maintained through a private-public partnership, who are fighting the state’s use of eminent domain to take their property for what would be a new bridge over the Intracoastal Waterway. It also, highlights local opposition to the bridge from residents, many who have joined a Facebook group “End the #Bridge2Nowhere,” which started in 2016 when the bridge was first proposed before being rejected. Their concerns rang from questions about its cost, the use of eminent domain and ultimately how they say it would disrupt rather than help local traffic.
I’m not a lawyer, but I read the filing (and you can too, it’s linked here) it’s hard to believe some of the explosive new information it contains hasn’t gotten more attention.
More politics as usual coming from Montgomery. Exactly what one has come to expect from a Robert Bentley appointee who’s department was used as a hammer by the former-Governor himself in an attempt to get the legislature to raise taxes. None of what it says is good news for taxpayers.
First, we are told a new bridge is necessary to alleviate traffic congestion in the coastal communities of Orange Beach and Gulf Shores. Yet the filing states that ALDOT Director John Cooper has explicitly said that a new bridge is unnecessary to address traffic concerns.
Second, Cooper has stated that he is pushing for the new bridge solely because he does not like the deal that was struck when the Foley Beach Express was constructed. Orange Beach Mayor Tony Kennon has echoed this sentiment publicly, saying that after a new bridge is constructed, “I hope they (the owners of the Beach Express) go bankrupt.” Well that’s one way to get the free ride you were hoping for Mayor. Wait, it’s going to cost how much? See next point. Maybe that “free ride” isn’t free after all.
Third, ALDOT is unable to justify the cost, with an absurd price range of $30 – $87 million, by providing any traffic studies or data pointing to the need for another bridge. Cooper appears to have made his decision that he wants a bridge, regardless of what impact it will have on traffic or the local economy, and is retroactively going through the process of securing approval. ALDOT is running into problems, though: Just this week, two committees of the Florida-Alabama Transportation Planning Organization voted to table a plan to build the bridge. Their reasoning, per sources in the room: “the lack of traffic study information…as well as the lack of an environmental impact statement for the project.” You know the basics usually involved in big projects that aren’t being rushed and pushed down the throats of everyone involved.
Cooper was subpoenaed to testify about these discrepancies, but ALDOT filed a motion to dismiss the subpoena so he wouldn’t have to defend his quest for what seems to be an unnecessary expense approaching 100 million taxpayer dollars. Long story short: There is no defense for the defensible. Local government agencies are now catching on to what Mr. Cooper has known all along.
Cooper is using the power vested in him by Bentley, then maintained by Governor Kay Ivey when she took over, and is pulling out all the stops to put a private company out of business. All the while failing to do anything about actual traffic congestion or infrastructure concerns. And it’s not clear that the governor is on board – she recently gave approval in writing for a transportation plan in Baldwin County that included no mention of this bridge. The BP spending documents also don’t mention the project specifically. Transportation and transparency clearly don’t go together under Director Cooper’s watch.
Why does it matter if this bridge is built and what can we do to stop it? First, it matters because this is a blatant waste of valuable infrastructure money at a time where safety and the growth of the economy is on the line. How can we trust ALDOT to oversee the construction of a new bridge over Mobile Bay, when the agency clearly doesn’t have the state’s best interests in mind? How can we be expected to support new I-10 construction when our leaders can’t justify a single penny of an unnecessary bridge to the beach?
Let’s work together and make sure our elected officials know that we want better: Stop the bridge to nowhere. Stop the waste of money. Stop the use of eminent domain. Stop the games and do what’s right for the state.