The owners of the Beach Express toll bridge in Orange Beach are suing the Alabama Department of Transportation (ALDOT) after the state agency introduced plans to build a new toll-free bridge nearby.
The Baldwin County Bridge Company (BCBC) has operated the Foley Beach Express for 22 years. The toll bridge is an alternate route for beachgoers who otherwise would have to take Alabama Highway 59.
BCBC was previously negotiating with ALDOT to add additional lanes to reduce the traffic burden on Highway 59 during the summer.
According to the BCDC’s attorney Joe Epsy, the bridge company had already agreed to add the additional lanes and provide all Baldwin County residents with free passage, all at zero cost to the state.
The ALDOT project, Epsy argued, could cost over $90 million.
Orange Beach Mayor Tony Kennon explained to 1819 News earlier this month that the bridge company recently proposed a "noncompete clause" after ALDOT started demanding money. The clause would prevent the state from building a nearby public bridge for a set number of years after the agreement. That was when the state decided to build a bridge of its own.
On September 1, ALDOT announced it would be constructing the Intercoastal Waterway, a toll-free alternative a little over a mile west of BCBC's bridge.
On Friday, Espy filed suit against both ALDOT and ALDOT director John Cooper in Montgomery County Circuit Court, accusing the agency of trying to force them out of business.
“Director Cooper has attempted to force the bridge company to lower its tolls and relinquish the Baldwin Express Bridge outright, and when the company refused, Cooper then ordered his Department to proceed with an admittedly unnecessary new bridge over the Intracoastal Waterway,” Epsy said. “Cooper has abused his position as ALDOT Director and has acted with intent to harm Bridge Company by destroying, or at the very least, substantially undermining the reasonably expected investment value of the Baldwin Express Bridge.”
The plaintiff claimed that ALDOT’s new two-lane bridge lacks public support and will not solve the traffic issues on Highway 59.
“It is a sad day in Alabama when we turn against those who came to the table to provide infrastructure for us in a time when we didn’t have the means,” he added. “This lawsuit is about much more than just damages to the Bridge Company. The damage these actions will do to the State’s reputation in how we have turned on a private partner, threatening them, bullying them, and sending them towards bankruptcy will be a cold wind towards anyone looking to partner with Alabama in the future.”
1819 News reached out to ALDOT for a comment on the issue but received no response.
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