The Alabama Department of Transportation released a statement on Friday, Sept 22, denying a request for a rehearing regarding the Supreme Court's previous ruling in favor of the free intra-coastal …
With a final decision from the Alabama Supreme Court, the new toll-free bridge planned to cross the intracoastal has the green light to resume construction.The Alabama Department of Transportation released a statement on Friday, Sept 22, regarding the Alabama Supreme Court's decision to deny a request for a rehearing regarding the Supreme Court's previous ruling in favor of the bridge in Orange Beach.
"With Baldwin County Bridge Company's request for a rehearing denied and the Supreme Court's previous ruling in favor of ALDOT now finalized, ALDOT's bridge contractor Scott Bridge Company has been directed to resume work immediately," said Tony Harris, chief of communication and government relations for ALDOT. "The Supreme Court's decision today is a victory for ALDOT's effort to complete a toll-free bridge that will reduce traffic congestion to and from Alabama's Gulf Coast beach communities. We are gratified that the Court ruled in our favor so we can get back to work on a project that is sorely needed."
"Everything that needs to be said has been said, there's nothing else to talk about," said Orange Beach Mayor Tony Kennon, who had been in favor of the toll bridge and making changes to the existing structure near The Wharf.
History of bridge development and construction
In October 2022, Gov. Kay Ivey awarded a contract to construct the bridge, which is intended to alleviate the traffic conditions on Highway 59, support access to emergency services and make it safer to evacuate in the case of a storm or emergency.
Later that month, the Baldwin County Bridge Company filed a suit to stop the construction of the bridge, for which land had already started to be cleared. Montgomery County Circuit Judge Jimmy B. Pool granted the preliminary injunction requested by the toll bridge company on May 17, immediately halting construction. ALDOT then appealed the order to the Alabama Supreme Court, in doing so asking that the preliminary injunction be overturned to allow construction to proceed.
To show its support of the parties in favor of building the bridge, the City of Gulf Shores requested and was granted by the state's top legal organ to file a "friend of the court" brief. Mayor Robert Craft's statement said the city filed the brief asking for the injunction to be dissolved "because of the clear harm to the public interest caused by Judge Pool's interruption of the construction of the free public bridge. Protecting the profit interests of a private toll bridge and a municipality that directly benefits financially from its operation should never be placed over the public's interest."
Craft and the city held a public meeting in July to give an update on the situation and the brief they filed.
The statement said both the toll bridge and the City of Orange Beach filed briefs with the Supreme Court supporting an alternate plan that would require ALDOT to surrender the ability to construct the bridge — or any bridge east of the Hwy. 59 WC Holmes Bridge — for 50 years, regardless of public need.
Orange Beach Mayor Tony Kennon has said publicly and in precious reporting by Gulf Coast Media he thinks proposals by the Baldwin County Bridge Company to eliminate tolls for Baldwin residents and add more lanes and toll booths to the bridge in Orange Beach would be a better solution to traffic problems than the ALDOT plan to build the new two-lane bridge to the west.
In addition to the toll bridge in Orange Beach, the Dr. W.C. Holmes Bridge carries Hwy. 59 traffic across the water in Gulf Shores. The non-toll bridge carries more than 10 million vehicles a year, according to Gulf Shores traffic reports. The new bridge is poised between the two existing ones.
Gulf Shores is extending Waterway East Boulevard north of the Intracoastal to link with the planned road to the new bridge. Another bridge on Alabama 182 crosses Perdido Pass in Orange Beach near the Florida state line.
Gulf Shores' brief pointed to an 1837 Supreme Court decision it says supports its cause, citing that Charles River Bridge v. Proprietors of Warren Bridge requires that the builder of a proprietary toll bridge must accept the possibility that a subsequent free public bridge may impair or destroy the profitability of the private toll bridge.
"There is no way to get the number of people in town today out of here if we get an early storm, if they rule in favor of the Orange Beach plan we are stuck," Craft said to the crowd of city staff and public attendees at a city council work session meeting on July 17.