Mayor Craft: ALDOT was bluffing about Intracoastal Bridge
City will proceed with plans to connect Waterway Blvd. East to Hwy. 59
By John Mullen
Gulf Shores Mayor Robert Craft said the state’s $20 million bluff to build a third span over the Intracoastal Waterway was also a bluff for his city when Alabama Department of Transportation Director John Cooper backed out of building it.
Craft made his comments at the April 19 town hall meeting at Erie Meyer Civic Center during a presentation on upcoming road projects and other projects Gulf Shores is planning.
ALDOT, Craft said, promised a third bridge would be built over the Intracoastal in Gulf Shores just west of the Orange Beach Water Treatment and serviced by a road from the Beach Express to the new span.
“His frustration of 59 being overcrowded and the toll bridge not being able to take as many people because of rates,” Craft said. “He committed to us then that he was going to build a bridge. He was so serious that he started acquiring right of way and spent somewhere north of $20 million to acquire the right of way for the roadway and right of way on the south side of the Intracoastal.
“Then, it changed.”
After refusing to even meet with ALDOT representatives for years, The Baldwin County Bridge Company reacted to Cooper’s plans to build that bridge to negotiate concessions with ALDOT. The bridge company agreed to add a second two-lane span, give Orange Beach $60 million over 50 years including $10 million up front and give $25 million towards the spur road to connect with Waterway Boulevard East near the Gulf Shores airport.
“Apparently, he was bluffing the bridge company to try to get them to step up and build another span, but he also bluffed us,” Craft said. “We had already completed County Road 4 improvements and County Road 8 improvements, Coastal Gateway and Cotton Creek, to be able to connect 59 and the Beach Express trying to get people in and out of town better.”
Other projects Craft gave details on included the extra third lane south on State Route 59 from Coastal Gateway Boulevard to Fort Morgan Road and a pedestrian bridge over the Intracoastal Waterway between Tacky Jacks and Big Beach Brewing.
But the sting of the denied third bridge was evident during the presentation.
“Please don’t interpret this message that we’re OK with where ALDOT is with this bridge, the fact we’re told we’re not going to get this bridge now,” Councilman Philip Harris said during the presentation. There are 14,000 cars a day in the summer months that bypass the toll bridge, come over the bridge we’re spending money on to improve to get to Orange Beach because they want to avoid the toll. And, that’s not OK with us.”
The mayor echoed Harris’ comments and said the city will continue to battle for the new bridge.
“This is frustrating beyond description and we are not through with the fight,” Craft said. “We very probably going to have to engage your help in telling this story in a way that they will react to. Again, standby, we’ll keep in touch.”
Craft said the city plans to move forward with the spur road to connect Waterway Boulevard East past the east end of the airport property, the state’s Mariculture Center, Saunders Yachtworks and eventually to State Route 59 using part of the rights of way the state spent more than $20 million to buy.
“What we were able to negotiate is they are going to give all the right of way north of the Intracoastal to the city,” Craft said. “All of that right of way will be ours. We’re not getting the right of way on the south side, the landing area, but we’re working on getting funding to build the spur road ourselves. They are not going to build the road as they planned, but they are going to give us money to build it.”
Craft said as far as he knows the bridge company’s pledge to give the state $25 million toward the construction of that road is still valid. The city has received federal grant money to connect from Waterway Village East to Cotton Creek and the spur road.
“We went to the RESTORE grant and we got the money through RESTORE to build Waterway East which is the roadway that goes from LuLu’s on the north side of the Intracoastal,” Craft said. “We got the money to build that and we were going to connect it to the spur road. That would give us three distinct ways to get from the Beach Express to 59 and we could spread the traffic out a little bit.”