GULF SHORES — State highway officials plan to open bids on a new bridge over the Intracoastal Waterway on Sept. 30, according to a statement from the Alabama Department of Transportation.Gulf …
GULF SHORES — State highway officials plan to open bids on a new bridge over the Intracoastal Waterway on Sept. 30, according to a statement from the Alabama Department of Transportation.
Gulf Shores Mayor Robert Craft said the decision by ALDOT to move forward with a new bridge will create another free route to the island, relieve traffic congestion and help accommodate continued growth.
"While some try to make this a "Gulf Shores project" or a Gulf Shores versus Orange Beach debate, it is not," Craft said in a statement. "This project was designed by ALDOT as their solution to traffic congestion on State Highway 59. The proposed bridge begins in Gulf Shores and lands in Orange Beach. The project has received overwhelming public support from local residents, tourism officials, hospital leaders and elected officials, including Orange Beach Mayor Tony Kennon and me."
Craft said he and Kennon have referred to the proposed route as "our bridge to the future," and will also provide an additional hurricane evacuation route.
Craft said ALDOT rejected a proposal by the Baldwin Beach Express Bridge, which operates the toll bridge over the waterway at the southern end of the Baldwin Beach Express, to not build the new bridge if the company expanded services and provided toll-free passes for residents. The mayor said the proposal would have restricted new bridges over the waterway for 50 years.
"This 50-year restriction would remain regardless of future growth, traffic conditions, or any other justifiable need," Craft said. "Proponents of the toll bridge company's plan have focused on their proposal to provide Baldwin County residents toll-free passes. However, any deal that would allow a foreign bridge company to control access and dictate the expansion of transportation infrastructure in any part of Alabama is a bad deal."
Tony Harris, spokesman for the Alabama Department of Transportation, said the project has been in the works for more than a decade. He said that while highway officials have discussed plans with the toll bridge operators, any restriction on building a third bridge was not considered by ALDOT.
"Our goal is to reduce traffic congestion for residents and visitors," Harris said. "We're dissatisfied with the lack of progress in negotiations with the toll bridge company. There's no solution that satisfies everyone, but we can't keep chipping away without progress. To ensure progress, we are advertising to take bids on the same project that received an overwhelming positive response from local citizens and leaders in 2018. We believe it's ALDOT's obligation to ensure that a bridge gets built; the best way to ensure that is for ALDOT to build it."
More than 10 million vehicles a year use the Holmes Bridge that carries Alabama 59 traffic over the waterway, according to Gulf Shores traffic reports.