Traffic has citizens asking: Why do we keep building?

BY JOHN MULLEN jmullen@gulfcoastnewspapers.com
Posted 7/10/13

ORANGE BEACH, Ala. — Citizens are speaking out about traffic and Mayor Tony Kennon and the City Council are listening.

Kennon said several of the citizens asked, “if we have more traffic than we can handle now, why are we continuing to build …

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Traffic has citizens asking: Why do we keep building?

Posted

ORANGE BEACH, Ala. — Citizens are speaking out about traffic and Mayor Tony Kennon and the City Council are listening.

Kennon said several of the citizens asked, “if we have more traffic than we can handle now, why are we continuing to build more?”

“And they are our bosses,” Kennon said.

And so emerges the M-word.

“At the planning commission on Monday, the thought was thrown out on a moratorium on building until such time as the infrastructure caught up,” the mayor said. “That was not an advocation there be a moratorium or that the moratorium was the right thing.”

But, Kennon said, it reflects the mood of the citizens who are trying to get the state’s attention to provide some relief for the city’s holiday traffic bottlenecks.

“This island was shut down,” resident Alan McElroy told the City Council.

With the rainy weather keeping visitors off the beaches, many took to their cars in search of activities.

That turned what should have been a five-minute excursion to the store into a traffic nightmare for locals.

“Again, they are our bosses and if they start to feel that way that a moratorium makes sense and would get somebody’s attention, that’s scary,” Kennon said. “They’re tired of it and we’re tired of taking the heat for the state’s lack of action.

“A moratorium would hurt us with investors and potential buyers. It would hurt us. But that’s the feeling of the community and they elect us.”

Two parcels of land on the Gulf flanking the Hampton Inn are on the drawing board. One, Mandalay Bay to the Hampton’s west, has already submitted drawings to the planning commission. The planning commission gave site plan approval for a 21-story, 116-unit condominium.

The eastern parcel is currently seeking to consolidate seven lots into one, including the parcel that could become the south end of the Alabama 161/Alabama 182 intersection. The zoning seeks to allow for a beach resort meaning condos, hotels, restaurants and other amenities to draw in visitors to stay and the public to use the facilities. Phoenix West II, officials say, is close to opening its 400-plus units.

“We’ve got projects on the drawing board, we’ve got possibilities, we’ve got people coming to Orange Beach and we’re growing,” Kennon said. “We just can’t seem to get that ‘let’s get it done’ attitude out of those guys.”

Also, increasing the traffic volume will be the new convention center-hotel the state wants to build on the Gulf where the hotel destroyedduring Hurricane Ivan in 2004 once stood.

“How you going to get them to the convention center and how you going to get them back?” Kennon asked.

So Kennon decided his next step was to ramp up the pressure on the state to give Orange Beach relief in one of three projects that have been tossed around. His first step was having the city place messages on lighted signs at The Wharf and in front of City Hall exhorting those stuck in traffic to call the governor’s office.

He has since had communications with officials in Montgomery to express the community’s concerns.

Councilman Jeff Silvers said the city has contributed millions already toward studying projects that could ease traffic woes. Those include the cross-island connector through the state part to Alabama 182, or beach road, the widening to five lanes of Canal Road and a bridge over Wolf Bay to connect to the north end of Alabama 161 to allow an outlet there.

“Those three projects you’re talking about, we have done our due diligence,” Silvers said. “We have funded millions of dollars on studies for all three of those projects. We have done our part and moreso . The taxpayers of the city have done their part, we’ve utilized their revenues.

“We’ve spent a lot of money and it’s gotten us nowhere.”

Kennon said the city sent almost $3 million to the state in 2006 to buy rights-of-way for the widening of Canal Road.

“We sent the state $2.7 million to buy rights-of-way to widen Canal Road and you see what’s happened,” Kennon said. “And we haven’t gotten any interest off of that money, either.”

McElroy pointed out the amount of tax revenue the city sends to Montgomery. According to McElroy, the city collected $15 million in lodging taxes in 2012, almost $7 million of which went to Montgomery. Of almost $25 million in sales taxes, the state received $9.3 million with the remainder split between Orange Beach and Baldwin County. In the county, just more than $17 million was collected in property taxes and $3.8 million of that when to state coffers in property taxes, McElroy said.

McElroy said he received these figures from Financial Director Clara Myers.

“We’re collecting almost $50 million a year,” McElroy said. “We need to get something back for it other than a parking lot. That’s what we have is a parking lot.”