An artist's rendering of the south footing of the new Intracoastal Waterway bridge between Gulf Shores and Orange Beach in Coastal Alabama.
By John Mullen
November 19, 2018 – Orange Beach, AL (OBA®) – Just because Orange Beach is moving ahead with building its own Wolf Bay Bridge doesn’t mean officials there aren’t completely behind the state’s project to put a new bridge west of the Foley Beach Express Toll bridge.
“As far as it being an advantage for us it’s a free bridge, it’s two lanes more north and south than we’ve got now and it makes no sense to be in opposition of it,” Kennon said. “There is no logical rationale to be in opposition of it. Anyone who does has a selfish agenda and has something to do with the bridge company. It’s a no-brainer.”
Orange Beach was well represented at the state's public hearing on Nov. 15 over a road and bridge project in south Baldwin County. A standing room only crowd packed into the Gulf Shores Activity Center and more than 40 came to the mike to express views on the products. Many more submitted written comments.
The flyover option for the start of the new road between Gulf Shores and Orange Beach in Coastal Alabama.One of those was State Auditor Jim Zeigler who said he needed more than the allotted two minutes to ask his questions. Zeigler says he has asked ALDOT several times this year for documents on the project and has yet to get a response. He wants “to make sure that this $30 to $87 million dollar project is the best use of our limited funds.”
Brian Aaron of ALDOT said the $87 million is the highest possible cost and it could come in lower than that figure.
“The $87 million is a worst-case estimate for the entire project including design, right of way, utilities and construction,” Aaron said. “Depending on the alternate selected, the estimate could be as low as an estimated $75 million.”
The main alternate concerns the beginning of the roadway at its intersection with the Foley Beach Express. Residents from nearby Craft Farms oppose a flyover connection and after hearing those concerns the state is considering a roundabout instead. The flyover option is $3.5 million higher than a roundabout, state officials said.
On hand to lead the opposition was End the Bridge2Nowhere founder Joe Emerson who says the money could be better spent on a north-south road through the state park.
“Our traffic problems in and around this area can be vastly improved by one build alone, a project that has been in The roundabout option for the beginning of a new road between Orange Beach and Gulf Shores in Coastal Alabama.the conception phase for over a decade,” Emerson said of a road through the park. “I recognize we desperately need a cross-island corridor.”
Kennon said he hopes the closing of the Gulf State Park Golf Course could be the solution to the north-south corridor officials believe is vitally necessary to alleviate traffic on Canal Road. The bridge’s south footing would be within a few thousand yards of the golf course and connects to State Park Road 2, an existing roadway. It is currently closed and part of the trail system but has been recently paved and is intact.
Holding up any road through the state park is an agreement with the Gulf Resource Council settling a lawsuit about funding for the Gulf State Park Lodge and other improvements in the park. The state agreed no new roads would be built in the state park for 20 years. Kennon hopes the golf course closure will open the door to the thoroughfare.
“We may now get our road through the state park,” Kennon said. “We could go across the golf course to State Road 2, an existing roadway and go straight to the beach. Now, how much sense would that bridge make? Come right off that bridge and boom, boom, you’re on the beach, no more traffic on Canal Road. It is the perfect solution.”
One reason the state is no paying attention to the Gulf Coast, Kennon said, is the local governments in Baldwin County’s willingness to help pay for the improvements.
“We have $300 million in projects going on in Baldwin County,” Kennon said. “We have come up with over $100 million of it in the county to match that to make that happen. Who else is doing that in the state of Alabama? We are reaching out and doing everything we can do to help facilitate bringing money down here instead of just having our hands out asking.
Councilman Jerry Johnson led off the Orange Beach contingent and most of his comments concerned safety.
“You elect officials to do many things for you but one of the key things is to protect you and to keep you safe,” Johnson said. “We take that very seriously. There’s no way with the millions of vehicles coming into the island and leaving that you can say this is safe. We need another bridge over the Intracoastal to get people on the island safely and get them off the island safely.”
Resident Allen McElroy has been a bridge proponent for many years and his message to ALDOT officials was clear.
“We want a bridge, we want a bridge, we want a bridge,” McElroy said.
He was just a direct to Zeigler who has actively campaigned against the bridge until he can see the paperwork and exact costs.
“I’ve got one thing I want to say to the Auditor of the state of Alabama,” McElroy said. “You received 84 percent vote out of Orange Beach and I’m sure you got that much out of Gulf Shores. We need your support. This ain’t going to be the last election we have.”
Another Orange Beach resident Bill Jeffries said the bridge will help with evacuation but would also help the city address increasing traffic as more homes and condominium projects go up.
“I’ve been on the planning commission in Orange Beach and during yesterday’s meeting the question was asked and this is not an uncommon question to us at all,” Jeffries said. “With all the building, when are we going to do something about infrastructure? We have no control over the roads in Orange Beach. They are state of Alabama owned. Gentlemen, Orange Beach needs this bridge.”
Kennon said recent traffic studies in his city reflect that burgeoning growth.
“Traffic over the toll bridge has increased four years running 10 to 12 percent,” Kennon said. “People are coming down the expressway because even with a two-lane bridge and a bottleneck there it’s still 15, 25, 45 minutes faster there depending on what time of year.
“But they are coming. And they are going to continue to come. Every traffic study in the city of Orange Beach has shown increased traffic significantly over the last four years. We know it’s happening.”
An overview of a bridge and roadway project between Orange Beach and Gulf Shores in Coastal Alabama.