O.B.’s lodging tax will pay for Wolf Bay Bridge
Will also fund road improvements, dredging, renourishment
By Fran Thompson
With federal and state funds for the project mostly unavailable, City of Orange Beach officials have decided to use its own funds to pay for a free bridge over Wolf Bay. Projected revenue from the recently implemented two percent increase in the lodging tax is expected to generate $5-$6 million per year from the city’s condo row. Those funds will also pay for other road and traffic congestion improvements in the city, as well as beach renourishment ($20M) and ongoing Perdido Pass dredging ($5M) projects.
“The two percent lodging tax made the most sense to us because there is a nexus between tourists and beach use and infrastructure demands, and that nexus is the beach,’’ said Mayor Tony Kennon at the city’s recent town hall meeting.
Kennon said the estimated cost of the Wolf Bay Bridge is $40 to $60 million. The city voted on Dec. 6 to allocate $242,000 for environmental studies, permitting and the conceptual design for the construction of Wolf Bay Bridge. It is scheduled for completion in 2020.
The bridge will cross the Intracoastal Canal directly north of Hwy. 161 and cut through parcels of land owned by the Lorenz and Barber families. It will connect to County Rd. 95, where traffic can either proceed north to Hwy. 98 or west to the Foley Beach Express. Kennon said he expects no hurdles in acquiring land north of the Waterway, and the city hopes to annex the Lorenz and Barber properties into the city.
“We know that we have to move traffic on this island, and we know that growth over there will take pressure off of the island south of the (Intracoastal) canal,’’ Kennon said.
The State of Alabama announced recently it is planning to build a bridge about a mile and a half west of the Foley Beach Express Bridge, also with a 2020 target completion date.
“If the state follows through to the west, and we get all the Canal Road improvements completed, I think we will have traffic infrastructure in place that will make life easier for those of us who want to live south of the canal, and for our tourists to be able to move around better,” Kennon said.
Other traffic issues addressed at the Town hall meeting:
• Alabama Department of Transportation (ALDOT) will begin construction of an additional Canal Road eastbound lane from William Silvers Pkwy. to Hwy. 161 in 2018, with completion scheduled for the spring of 2020.
• The Foley Beach Express toll booth will be expanded and the bridge lanes will have a third reverse lane to be used to alleviate traffic congestion during peek hours on the bridge.
• Orange Beach will acquire Powerline Rd. and create a loop that will connect with the O.B. Wastewater Treatment Plant, the O.B. Sportsplex and the Orange Beach Middle/High School that is scheduled to open in August of 2019.
• Canal Road from Alabama 161 to Wilson Blvd. will be widened, and the design could include a roundabout in front of the Coastal Arts Center of Orange Beach. The city wants to add a center turn lane on this stretch of road to avoid traffic congestion from cars traveling east waiting to turn left (often to come back west to dine at Doc’s Seafood).
• The City is working with ALDOT on two options to improve traffic flow to the beach from the west at the intersection of Canal Rd. and Hwy. 161. The most interesting option is for a Canal Rd. by-pass that would start about a half mile west of Hwy. 161 on Canal Rd. and allow north or south lane options when it reaches Hwy. 161.
• ￼Highway 161 is currently being resurfaced and should be completed by the end of the year.