Orange Beach toll bridge company sues ALDOT over new bridge plan

Guy Busby
Government Editor
guy@gulfcoastmedia.com
Posted 10/28/22

ORANGE BEACH — The Baldwin County Bridge Company, which operates the toll bridge over the Intracoastal Waterway, is suing the Alabama Department of Transportation and its director, John Cooper, …

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Orange Beach toll bridge company sues ALDOT over new bridge plan

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ORANGE BEACH — The Baldwin County Bridge Company, which operates the toll bridge over the Intracoastal Waterway, is suing the Alabama Department of Transportation and its director, John Cooper, over plans to build a new bridge in the same area.

The complaint was filed Thursday, Oct. 20, in Montgomery County Circuit Court, according to court records. The suit asks a judge to issue an injunction halting construction of the new bridge and to award the company an unspecified amount of money in damages.

The complaint states that Cooper is attempting to drive the company out of business by building a new bridge that does not require drivers to pay a toll.

"ALDOT Director John Cooper has been on a mission to destroy BCBC's contractual rights and to force BCBC out of business. Unfortunately, his tactics—carried out with taxpayer funds and from his position as an appointed state official in Montgomery—have caused and will continue to cause BCBC irreparable harm and damage," the complaint states.

Tony Harris, ALDOT spokesman, said in a statement that the new bridge is needed to improve traffic flow.

"ALDOT wants to build a bridge that reduces traffic congestion and improves quality of life," Harris said in the statement. "The foreign-owned toll bridge company wants to protect their profits without regard to how long people wait in traffic. This frivolous lawsuit will waste taxpayer money and seeks to delay a local improvement project the area clearly needs. Any delay will only exacerbate the traffic problems on the Gulf Coast and hurt the people of Baldwin County. Like the many Alabamians and visitors who are tired of sitting in traffic on Alabama's coast, we look forward to the completion of the free, public bridge."

Contacted by telephone on Tuesday, Harris said he and other department officials could not comment on pending litigation.

Orange Beach Mayor Tony Kennon said 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 a new two-lane bridge to the west.

"We had a great deal negotiated with the bridge company," Kennon said. "It included free passes unlimited to every Baldwin County resident. It included another bridge span built right next to the one that's there, so you have two lanes north, two lanes south. It included going from five toll booths to 11 toll booths with improved roadways for queuing up at no charge to the state or to anyone, not one single dime and between County Road 8 and the bridge there are no intersections there are no conflict points."

Kennon said the proposed bridge would have four new intersections between Baldwin County 8 and the bridge.

On Sept. 30, ALDOT opened bids for the new bridge project. Scott Bridge Company of Opelika was the low bidder with a submission of $51.8 million.

Kennon said he wants to hold a public meeting with Cooper and Gulf Shores Mayor Robert Craft to discuss the bridge project.

"It's just mind boggling that the state's going to spend all this money and it doesn't improve anything, nothing," Kennon said "I have no problem standing in front of the public and defending my position. Can they do the same?"

Craft said the new bridge is a state project and he was not interested in holding a meeting to discuss the plan.

"I'm not at all interested. Neither one of us, Mayor Kennon nor myself is going to make this decision and our opinions are clearly just opinions," Craft said. "If he wants to debate somebody, he needs to debate John Cooper and he will debate facts. I'm not interested in a debate and having a public forum like that."

In a previous statement, Craft said the new bridge would relieve traffic congestion on Alabama 59 and had received overwhelming public support from local residents, tourism officials, hospital leaders and elected officials.

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