Some businesses along a section of Alabama Highway 59 in Gulf Shores are asking the Alabama Department of Transportation (ALDOT) to make changes before they are forced out of business due to a long-term project that got underway in July of 2023. They say since then, sales have been down while anxiety is high.
The Highway 59 widening work is being performed by contractors in three phases. Phase one is south of the bridge over the Intercoastal Waterway and Fort Morgan Road.
Traffic in that area has been shifted to make way for worker safety zones and barriers placed in the median, blocking southbound traffic from making left turns into businesses on the east side of the highway.
Businesses like Ace Hardware and David's Gallery say they are hurting.
"It has been bad," said Coral Ronan, general manager of David's Gallery. "We have watched numbers drop, and we've had a loss of business of 40 to 50%. We've been hitting equity lines of credit, we've cut back our hours and we're down to two employees."
Ronan said she would like to see gaps in the barriers so people can turn into the 12 businesses in the area, or she said overnight road crews would be a better option.
Angie Swiger, co-owner of Swiger & Company Realtors, which owns and manages the buildings where the 12 businesses operate, said she has been to council meetings and has been in contact with others about what they are experiencing.
"We have spoken to the tenants; they have all come to us, as well as Ace Hardware and people trying to get into the urgent care center, and from what we understand, business has been down since the barrels went up," Swiger said. "We attend the city council meetings regularly, and we have been told on three occasions the mayor would speak to ALDOT about moving the cones."
Ace Hardware assistant manager Jake McMillan said the store has seen a drop in around 100 customers per month since the barriers went up. McMillan believes the contractors could have waited to put barriers up in front of Ace Hardware until they performed work closer to the store.
"I don't know what we're going to do, I guess deal with it until it's over," he told 1819 News. "But it doesn't make sense because they're not even working directly in front of our store. They're doing it down the street."
Another thing he doesn't think makes sense is why Phase One of the project is supposed to go all the way to Fort Morgan Road, but for now, the barriers stop before the ABC Store next to Ace Hardware.
"They've got to make sure they keep that revenue flowing in, right," said McMillan. "It's a state-run project, so it's convenient they stopped just short of the state-run liquor store. It's pretty funny how that works."
Swiger said some of her tenants have come to her with concerns they won't be able to pay the rent.
"For the first time that we've been here we've had people that are having trouble paying their rent," Swiger added. "They have to be able to survive. This is tough for them."
After speaking with city leaders, Swiger said Mayor pro-tem Phillip Harris responded quickly.
"Phillip Harris has been very helpful and very responsive," Swiger said. "He actually drove it to see what could be done."
Harris also recommended businesses on the east side of 59 place signage warning customers not to turn left out of the businesses and head south on 59.
"That would give us a much better chance of surviving longer with ALDOT," Harris said at Tuesday night's council meeting. "… Anything we can do to help ourselves I think would help us keep that open."
Gulf Shores Mayor Robert Craft said a project to open an alleyway off 15th Avenue would give rear access to the businesses. However, he said the contractor will have to re-strategize to complete that project.
"So, I think that's the longer-term solution," Craft said during Tuesday's council meeting. "Let's be careful here and let's get through this first opening and try to make sure it works productively and control the left turn out. If we could get that done then we get the alley built, of course, try to get our contractor to focus on that. He's the same one that's doing the third lane south."
Craft told 1819 News he had submitted plans to ALDOT to present to the contractor to help alleviate the problem for the businesses.
ALDOT chief of communication and government relations Tony Harris sent the following statement to 1819 News:
"We applaud the City for planning a grant-funded project that will help manage growing traffic volumes on Highway 59. ALDOT will work with the City to review potential changes to the current traffic management plan that might help alleviate the concerns that have been expressed."
Phase one of the project is expected to take approximately 12 months, and when it is complete, there will be three lanes of Highway 59 from Cypress Bend Drive in front of Target to Fort Morgan Road. The remainder of the project will take another 12 months, and a third lane will be added from Fort Morgan Road to Coastal Gateway Boulevard.
"I understand that in the end, it will probably be better for flow of traffic for everybody but for the two years, I just think it's a poorly outlaid plan and I hope we're still here," Ronan said.
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