Transportation plan updates include beach parking improvements

Transportation plan updates include beach parking improvements
Mayor still cautious about prospect of state funded Waterways Bridge

By John Mullen
Gulf Shores Mayor Robert Craft is encouraged by what he’s hearing about a new bridge over the Intracoastal Waterway but is still cautious about the prospect of the bridge coming.
“I have not really gotten to the point where I believe it is a final, final decision,” Craft said at the end of the Sept. 19 city council work session during the mayor’s updates portion of the meeting.
The bridge project is on ALDOT’s bid letting list for Sept. 30 but this is the third time it has been on the list. It was posted then pulled from the bid list in July and December of 2021.
“Obviously, the bids will come in toward the end of the month,” Craft said. “Whenever they post it and get their bids, they’ll have a better understanding of their reaction to that.”
He revealed that the Alabama Department of Transportation had meetings in the area on Sept. 20 and he believes those talks could involve the two beach express roadways.
“I do know that ALDOT is meeting with Baldwin County and Foley tomorrow,” Craft said. “It is my assumption that they are talking about the Foley Beach Express and the Baldwin Beach Express. It is certainly the impression that Director (John) Cooper has given to us that if he is going to build a bridge, they are going to have to take over those roads. That conversation is going on and we’ll see how that goes.”
He also expressed concerns about continuing talks between ALDOT and the bridge company and those talks are why he’s still not convinced the bridge is imminent.
“That conversation is going on and we’ll see how that goes,” Craft said. “I cannot believe that all of the negotiations are over I’m hopeful that this is the final decision. I’m as curious as all of you are to at least know what we are doing. Hopefully, it’s heading in the right direction.”
Gulf Shores continues to work on traffic solutions in the busy tourist town and hired transportation experts Skipper Consulting to update a plan the same company developed in 2020 during the Sept. 19 work session.
The new bridge over the Intracoastal Waterway is listed as the top priority on the ALDOT five-year plan, and Gulf Shores has applied for a $60 million grant to help pay for the bridge.
ALDOT announced on Sept. 1 that negotiations with the Baldwin County Bridge Company for a second toll span in Orange Beach fell through and it was ready to proceed with its own bridge.
“We have been considering applying for a grant to help fund that bridge,” Mayor Craft said. “There is a time frame we thought we could do it. So, we are eligible for a bridge investment program that we are in discussions with ALDOT and are going to apply for to assist them in the funding of this.”
Dan Bond, grant and environmental coordinator for the City of Gulf Shores is coordinating the grant application.
“This is a resolution that would authorize staff to work with ALDOT to pursue this grant funding opportunity from the Federal Highway Administration in an amount not to exceed $60 million for the construction of the new ICW bridge and supporting infrastructure as part of the U.S. Department of Transportation Bridge investment program for projects less than $100 million,” Bond said. “
This funding opportunity is part of the $550 billion bi-partisan infrastructure law that was passed by Congress last year.”
Part of the criteria in the grant requires the project to have much of the preliminary work done or already in place to be eligible for funding.
“ALDOT has already completed significant work on the project including acquiring rights of way, environmental permitting, preliminary engineering,” Bond said. “This new funding will be used to assist ALDOT in completing the final engineering and to construct the new bridge as well as to construct the connecting roadway to Cotton Creek Drive.”
The grant will cover 80 percent of the grant with the city and state combining to cover the remaining 20 percent. Bond said he anticipates the city will receive word on the grant after the first of the year and if successful it could be awarded in the spring.
“We’ve been aware of this for quite some time so we’ve been working on doing all the things that we could do to be prepared for this opportunity if it were to come to pass,” Mayor Craft said. “ALDOT will have to participate with us because this is a shovel-ready requirement so therefore you have to have all the things that Dan mentioned that ALDOT has that we don’t. It’s really important move for this city and this island in our opinion.”
Connecting the road from Cotton Creek Drive to the Beach Express south of Coastal Gateway Boulevard was not discussed during the special meeting.
Traffic Plan Update Contract
The contract to update the traffic plan will cost the city $37,500 and identifies 22 improvements including the ones mentioned above that are already completed. The plan is divided up in three increments with five projects in the short term, or zero to five years, 11 in the mid-term or six to 10 years and four in the long term or 11 to 20 years. The remaining seven are somehow tied to the completion of the 15 listed.
“We are currently planning, designing or bidding the Highway 59 widening, Waterway East extension, Waterway West improvements, the pedestrian bridge, East Canal Road realignment and the County Road 6 to Coastal Gateway Boulevard collector road,” city documents state.
Besides the new ALDOT bridge on the short-term list, two others are the Waterway East Boulevard extension from south of the Business and Aviation Park to meet the new road for the ALDOT bridge and the realignment of Canal Road to south of the Gulf Pines neighborhood.
The remaining two, widening Coastal Gateway Boulevard and building access roads to the Medical Center are mostly completed.
Major changes in demographics, growth of population, growth of tourism, future school sites and sportsplex both coming to Coastal Gateway Boulevard made an update to the plan necessary.
Plans for improving north-south connections include a two-lane connector from James Road in the north down to County Road 6.
Top priorities in the mid-term plan include adding a third southbound lane on State Route 59 from the Target center to Fort Morgan Road, widening County Road 4 East to four lanes with a median from State Route 59 to the Orange Beach city limits and widening County Road 6 west to four lanes and a median from State Route 59 to the Sportsplex.
Beach Parking/Boardwalk Improvements
At its Sept. 19 work session, Gulf Shores also discussed awarding a bid for work on West Sixth Street to McElhenney Construction in an amount of $416,667 to improve parking lots this year and boardwalk repairs and improvements in 2023.
Among the improvements will be paving the parking lot at the beach access and adding an ADA compliant parking space as well as adding a sidewalk connection to the Sixth Street Beach Access from State Route 182. Those improvements will be done this year.
In 2023, McElhenney will extend the boardwalk past the dune to improve ADA accessibility and replace the beach shower on the boardwalk. The city has been approved for a $50,000 Alabama Coastal Area Management Program grant from the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources to help with this portion of the project.
The city council earlier this year approved the design for the improvements and the ACAMP grant was applied for and approved in 2021.
During the work session, the council also discussed:
• Nominating Sherry Hoffman to the Library Advisory Board to replace Bobbie Rooker who passed away earlier this year. Her term would be through Nov. 1, 2026 if appointed.
• Authorizing emergency medical services Medicaid reimbursements to the fire department.
• A public assembly permit for the Coastal Alabama Food Truck and Craft Beer Festival Nov. 11-13 at Gulf Place.