Orange Beach negotiating with Beach Express owners to add bridge span
By John Mullen
Mayor Tony Kennon says Orange Beach is in negotiations with the new owners of the Beach Express Toll Bridge that could bring significant changes to the bridge possibly including a second two-lane span at
“In three years, we’ll have another bridge so we have two lanes north and two lanes south,” Kennon said at the July 21 joint city council session.
The council first met in a regular session and followed that up with a work session. Kennon spoke for about a half hour on issues from the toll bridge to Canal Road work to buying beachfront property for city residents to use to expanding use and regulation of golf carts in the city.
On the bridge, while the city and bridge company have been in detailed discussions for the past few months, the Alabama Department of Transportation must also give its blessing to any plan the two come up with, Kennon said.
“The City of Orange Beach and the bridge company has agreed in terms, in concepts but it will be up to the state of Alabama and ALDOT to allow us to consummate the deal,” Kennon said. “Included in those in that deal is a short-term cash value and a long-term revenue stream for the City of Orange Beach. I’ve been assured by ALDOT that if for whatever reason we are not allowed to consummate that deal they will build the bridge to the west, it will be a free bridge which we will support them on and the City of Gulf Shores supports them as well.
“One way or the other we are looking to get relief with our traffic on Canal Road and the expressway.”
Among other changes Kennon said he is hoping the company expands the toll plaza from five booths to 11 and that two of those – one going each way – would continually be Freedom Pass lanes for Orange Beach residents.
“Hopefully that will happen within 18 months,” Kennon said.
The company would agree to a lump-sum upfront payment Kennon said would be used to help build the new fire station near The Wharf, build the additions to the police station, buying the beachfront property the city is looking to acquire and improvements to the Beach Express and Canal Road intersection.
Under the current plan yet to be finalized, tolls would remain the same for five years and then based on the consumer price index or some other economic indicator. Orange Beach residents would continue to get a discounted rate. The new company is DIF Capital Partners and has over 100 professionals in eight offices, located in Amsterdam, Frankfurt, London, Luxembourg, Madrid, Paris, Sydney and Toronto. Please see www.dif.eu for further information.
Canal Rd. ALDOT Expansion
On Canal Road, work continues on the south side of the road and also involves the addition of a deceleration lane leading into the Commons shopping center where the Cactus Cantina is. Getting in and out of that driveway is a hazard during the busy season and Kennon said the goal of the added lane is to ease some of those concerns.
“We’re going to try put a decel lane in running hopefully from just to the west of or close to Pep Boys all the way down to Cactus Cantina to move traffic into that right turn lane so that we don’t have an issue with rear ends and backing traffic up in a significant fashion on busy days,” Kennon said.
Earlier this month the city voted to pay the Canal Road contractor to add wedges to the south side of the road to allow for five lanes of traffic during weekends when there is no construction. Currently there are some lane closures on the eastbound side during construction and a strictly enforced 40 mph speed limit.
Canal Rd. East
The city is now working on plans to three lane Canal Road from Doc’s to Wilson Boulevard using Restore Act money. The city will foot the bill for a roundabout that will be built near the art center, senior center and library.
“We’re going to match that $2 million in Restore money with our $2 million,” Kennon said. “The reason for the roundabout is twofold. It’s difficult for folks to get out of those entities on the north side and make a left turn. This will allow all three campuses to merge into the traffic circle. It also requires that anyone going to Doc’s has to come to the traffic circle and make the U-turn instead of trying to make the U-Turn at Kangaroo and backing everybody up into the intersection.”
Work on this part Canal Road will include the sidewalk project on the north side crossing over to the south on Callaway Drive to allow golf cart access to State Route 161 through the police complex.
“So now we have connectivity up and down and north and south from 161 all the way to Bear Point,” Kennon said. “If you cross at Marina Road you can then come back up to Oak Ridge, go down Oak Ridge all the way to ballparks. And from there if you want to cross and go back north and to The Wharf we’re going to have that taken care of as well.”
Golf Cart Path & Usage
This past spring the city had hoped to conduct meetings with citizens to iron out an agreement on golf cart usage in the city.
“The state of Alabama has a certain set of rules for golf carts and we need to adhere to those,” Kennon said. “We had planned on a program in the spring to bring everyone into compliance, inspect, register but because of COVID that didn’t happen. We have moved to the fall to try and do the same thing. Inspect them to make sure they are street-worthy, street viable with a number and registration so that they can be identified.”
Street worthy would mean the carts have to have lights, blinkers and brake lights. Golf carts are allowed only on roads with a speed limit of 25 mph or less. One of the biggest issues, Kennon said, is with children driving golf carts on city streets. State law says the driver must have a state driver’s license to operate them on public streets.
“It is imperative that we understand that children under 16 is not supposed to be on a golf cart without an adult and the adult should be driving,” Kennon said. “We are going to have to try our best and we have tried our best to enforce that but we need mom and dad to help us with that because it is getting to some degree out of control.”
Golf cart usage is perhaps highest in the Bear Point neighborhood and up and down the north side of Canal Road. It is currently a five-foot sidewalk from Gulf Avenue in Bear Point to Callaway or the north entrance to the Orange Beach Police Station.
“We have been working on engineering on multi-modal paths on Canal Road,” Kennon said. “We have hopefully connected most everything in town to some degree. What we’ve been working with engineers on are pathways.”
The city is also looking at adding a multi-use sidewalk from Oak Street or the Undertow strip mall to East Wharf Parkway with connections to the south side of the road to the new Orange Beach High School/Middle School campus.
Beachfront Property Purchase
Kennon said the city has been searching for the past four years to find property on the beach residents can access and says they are close to a deal.
“It is very difficult in today’s prices to find something that works,” Kennon said. “The last two years off and on we have been working with a private group to acquire a piece of property that we think will serve our needs.”
The property the city hopes to acquire – Kennon said it was too early to identify where it is – already has a structure on it and could likely be used the way city leaders want.
“It currently has a building on it that will serve a dual purpose for us which will tremendously reduce the overall investment for beachfront use for our residents and at the same time accomplish two other things that we need,” he said. “We have a deal but we have not signed a contract. I expect to sign the contract this week and then we will bring it to council.”