ORANGE BEACH — The Beach Express Bridge has increased toll rates from $2.75 to $5, and the Baldwin County Bridge Company and Orange Beach Mayor Tony Kennon are blaming the state Department of …
ORANGE BEACH — The Beach Express Bridge has increased toll rates from $2.75 to $5, and the Baldwin County Bridge Company and Orange Beach Mayor Tony Kennon are blaming the state Department of Transportation.
In a formal statement issued by the BCBC, the company conveyed its intentions behind the adjusted toll rates.
“BCBC had proposed to build a new span and provide a four-lane bridge for the citizens of Baldwin County to use for free, but ALDOT Director John Cooper refused to even consider that proposal. Now, as a result of the actions taken by Director Cooper, BCBC has been forced to increase the toll rates on the Beach Express Bridge," the company stated.
The construction of a new toll-free bride over the Intracoastal Waterway was given the green light to resume construction last week when the Alabama Supreme Court sided with ALDOT on what will be the third bridge over the canal. A battle between the island's two cities ensued over its plans, with Orange Beach being opposed and on the side of the BCBC and Gulf Shores being in favor and on the side of ALDOT.
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. The matter was taken to the state's top court.
In a previous article by Gulf Coast Media, Kennon expressed that in 2018, the city of Orange Beach was approached by the state to negotiate with the previous toll bridge company to assist in moving traffic from Highway 59 onto the Beach Express. As a result of those discussions, the BCBC committed to increasing the number of toll booths from five to 11 equipped with electronic capabilities, permanent lanes for Freedom Pass holders and two lanes for northbound and southbound. The BCBC would be responsible for covering these financial costs associated with the expansion efforts.
Kennon said the city does not profit from any toll increase but added that the city does receive $0.30 per car that goes through the toll.
In 2004, the city of Orange Beach made a deal with a company that operates a toll bridge. The city lent the company $12 million, and over time, the company paid that money back. Now, the agreement says that for each car using the bridge, the city gets $0.30. In 2021, they earned $1.5 million cars passing over the bridge.
This agreement will continue until 2033. Then, the city has a choice: they can buy the whole bridge by paying ten times the money it makes, or they can keep the agreement until 2063. If they do that, it could mean almost $70 million for Orange Beach. The money that the city gets from the toll bridge goes into a general fund.
Kennon has said he thinks proposals by the BCBC to eliminate tolls for Baldwin residents on the existing bridge and expand it and add more lanes and toll booths would be a better solution to traffic problems than the ALDOT plan to build the new two-lane bridge to the west.
“The state of Alabama is responsible for your tolls going up and the difficulties, especially with employees having to pay significantly more to go to work is despicable,” Kennon told Gulf Coast Media Wednesday about the decision to increase tolls.
For account holders who opt for electronic payment, which encompasses a considerable portion of local residents within South Baldwin County, those rates will experience a $0.20 upswing, with an average of $2.22.
The electronic rate extended to Orange Beach residents will remain untouched, remaining at $1. The toll for cash and debit/credit card transactions will rise to $5.
BCBC added that this is the first time in 10 years that the price of the toll bridge has increased, despite increasing costs because of the national economic inflation.
The mayor added that the city had a deal where residents of Baldwin County could get through the toll for free but that the state of Alabama failed to uphold this commitment.
In response to the city of Orange Beach and BCBC's statements, ALDOT released its own statement saying the situation is the bridge’s company’s “corporate greed.”
“We respect the Alabama Supreme Court’s ruling that the bad faith claim made by BCBC has failed,” read the statement. “We look forward to restarting construction of the new, free bridge as soon as possible to help reduce traffic congestion and provide an additional evacuation route.”
ALDOT commented on BCBC’s decision to increase their tolls and noted that the new bridge that is being constructed will be free for everyone forever.