Gov. Ivey in Foley to sign for Beach Express Bridge purchase

Gov. Ivey in Foley to sign for Beach Express Bridge purchase
Mayors will wait to see if making Beach Express and (after 2026) Waterways Bridge one way makes sense

The Foley Beach Express Bridge in Orange Beach is now officially toll free. Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey joined Foley Mayor Ralph Hellmich, Gulf Shores Mayor Robert Craft, Orange Beach Mayor Tony Kennon and Baldwin County Commissioner Billie Jo Underwood (pictured) to ceremonially complete the sale of the bridge to the state in a ceremony at Foley City Hall.
Gov Ivey said the move will be a benefit to the entire state and accommodate the growth in traffic to Alabama’s beaches.
The money to pay for the purchase comes from the Rebuild Alabama Act (RAA) – the 2019 law that set aside money from a state fuel tax increase to pay for road projects throughout Alabama.
The sale was completed in time to remove the $5 one-way toll before the start of Memorial Day Weekend and marked the first time since the Bankhead Tunnel in Mobile became toll-free in 1973 that Alabama has elminated a toll in the state.
The state will begin demolition work on the tollbooths on June 16.
The money to pay for the purchase price comes from the Rebuild Alabama Act (RAA) – the 2019 law that set aside money from a state fuel tax increase to pay for road projects throughout Alabama.
“This is good news for locals, for Alabamians across the state and for our visitors from near and far,” Ivey said.
Gov. Ivey added that the transfer will help accommodate the growth in traffic to Alabama’s beaches.
“Our coast continues to experience rapid growth and success,” she said. “We are making the needed infrastructure improvements in the area that will help alleviate traffic congestion by Alabamians and others visiting our beaches. I’m proud of the significant progress we’re making on infrastructure projects. In fact, we’re making so much headway down here that I think folks in other parts of the state are taking notice.
“It took a lot of teamwork to get us to this point today and I know we’re all excited to officially put pen to paper and make this purchase official,” Ivey added.
Matt Ericksen, southwest regional engineer for the Alabama Department of Transportation, also participated in the ceremony.
“We are partners in progress,” Mayor Hellmich said. “As we move forward here in Baldwin County, we are setting records for growth. Everybody in this room knows it and we want to continue that progress. We love where we live and we’re looking forward to the future ALDOT participation in projects that we have. We’re all here as partners in what we’re going to call progress.”
Mayor Craft said the transfer of the toll bridge and a third bridge planned over the waterway will help the area meet the demands of growth.
“We’re all rapidly growing here and with this new bridge it won’t stop,” Mayor Craft said. “We’ll continue to have opportunities to grow and offer access that is important to everyone that’s coming in here and making it easier to get here. It’s also important to everyone that’s here to get out and have an opportunity to get off the island also. So all of this is going to be helped by the third bridge and we are so thankful to have that.”
Mayor Kennon said state ownership of the Beach Express and eliminating bridge tolls will help more than the tourist industry.
“It’s wonderful and the kindness shown that eliminating the toll is well received from our residents and our tourists, especially our businesses because they just want to make a difference in their ability to see more people come across that ditch to spend money there in Orange Beach,” Mayor Kennon said. “So I am very happy we are where we are.”
The state is also taking over the Beach Express from the bridge north to Interstate 10. Baldwin County had maintained about 14 miles of that 25-mile route, while Foley maintained it from Alabama 59 to Baldwin County 12. Mayor Hellmich said the state taking over maintanence on the 25-mile road will save his city more than $200,000 every year.
“That maintenance part is huge for Baldwin County because it helps us alleviate local funds that we need to use to further our strategic goals, which is our No. 1 priority of increasing capacity and connectivity of local roads around here so that it will benefit all the people in Baldwin County,” Commissioner Underwood added.
Foley is now repaving and widening the Foley Beach Express between Alabama 59 and Baldwin County 12. The repaving project is scheduled to be completed in 250 working days. The state will take over the Foley Beach Express when the improvement project is completed.
The Beach Express between Hwy. 59 and the bridge in Orange Beach was completed by Foley in 2000.
Baldwin County completed the project to extend the Express from Foley to Interstate 10 in 2014. The Baldwin County Commission voted in 2023 to transfer the county-maintained sections of the Beach Express to ALDOT.
Also included in the deal is $3 million to the city of Orange Beach for road improvements, and ALDOT will pay to four lane Canal Rd. between the Beach Express Bridge and the Alabama owned Waterway Bridge under construction one mile west of the Foley Beach Express that will be completed in the spring of 2026.
In an earlier press release, FDOT officials stated that the new bridge will handle southbound traffic and the Foley Beach Express will be one way going north across the Canal.
“Traffic movement is based on predictivity and that’s the concern I have,” said Kennon. “But I think we start here and we see if there’s a better way to go and hopefully we’ll be flexible to move with it.”
Mayor Craft said he will wait to see how traffic plays out in the long-term.
“I think it’ll work well getting people on the island, but I’m not so confident it will help get people off the island,” said Mayor Craft. “Getting people off the island right now on a daily basis with two bridges, it’s hard to do. And if we could have three to get everyone off the island, that makes sense to me.”
Gulf Shoes gave ALDOT acreage near the future site of Gulf Shores High School to provide easy access to the school from south of the Intracoastal.
“I think we’ve got that worked out with ALDOT. And the only thing I’ve asked is that whatever we do, we do it in a way that if it doesn’t work like it’s designed, we can easily fix it,” he said. “I trust ALDOT to make good decisions,” Craft said. “If it doesn’t work (with the one-way bridges) then (my hope is) we build it in a way that we can easily adjust.”
The state will take control of the Foley Beach Express to I-10 and will make the road part of Hwy. 161.