Montgomery County Circuit Judge Jimmy Pool's ruling last week partially revealed how the Alabama Department of Transportation and Gov. Kay Ivey were interacting on the long-contemplated Intracoastal Waterway bridge project in South Baldwin County.
When completed, the route will serve as an alternative to the WC Holmes Memorial Bridge carrying Alabama State Highway 59 and the toll bridge to the east that carries the Foley Beach Express.
However, Pool issued a preliminary injunction at the request of the Baldwin County Bridge Company. According to BCBC, ALDOT director John Cooper operated in bad faith when deciding to build a new, free bridge near the existing toll bridge owned by BCBC.
Pool's ruling also showed a lack of communication between Gov. Kay Ivey and Cooper.
During an interview with Mobile radio FM Talk 106.5, State Sen. Chris Elliott (R-Josephine) reacted to the findings and called the lack of communication "shocking."
"[I] obviously read Judge Pool's ruling with some interest, and having been involved in this particular project for the last probably nine years or so, I was able to flip through the pages and say, 'Yeah, I remember when that happened. And I remember that. And I remember that negotiation,'" he said. "It kind of read like a history of this project, which has been needed for some time, and that is additional lanes across the Intracoastal Waterway, the canal. The question is how to do it and how to accomplish it. I have been concerned for some time this was possibly not the right way to go just because it was fraught with challenges as opposed to what the bridge company was offering, which was free passage for all Baldwin Countians across the toll bridge, as well as expanded lanes, expanding the toll gantry and everything else."
"Here we are with no clear path forward, and it's frustrating," Elliott added. "I think, however, the most telling thing was this fight, all of the conversations that I know I've had with the Ivey administration, the conversation I know that local mayors and other local elected officials have had with the Ivey administration — that the Governor, if you take what John Cooper said, and I have no reason to doubt that he is speaking truthfully, you take what he said and although we've had all those conversations with the Governor, the Governor's office, the chief of staff, the finance director that they saw no reason to reach out to the Alabama Department of Transportation director and discuss this project with him. And I think that's pretty stark."
The Baldwin County Republican state senator was reluctant to blame Cooper and insisted Ivey's hands-off approach was concerning.
"Look, you can say that, and I can understand that perspective," he said. "My problem is a little different than that. My problem is the Governor doesn't seem to be engaged in managing that department or working with that department. Again, if you take John Cooper at his word, and I do, and he says he has not talked to the Governor since 2017 about what is a very important transportation project that's very controversial — what does that say about the interaction between Governor Ivey and her ALDOT director? I've heard a lot of people say, 'This is going to be rough on Director Cooper.' John is doing what he thinks is right. I don't necessarily agree with him, but it is amazing to me, the real shocking thing of all of this is despite all of this local consternation over how this process is being managed and prosecuted — that the Governor has decided to take a completely hands-off approach to it and kind of let the chips fall where they may."
Jeff Poor is the executive editor of 1819 News and host of "The Jeff Poor Show," heard Monday-Friday, 9 a.m.-noon on Mobile's FM Talk 106.5. To connect or comment, email [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @jeff_poor.
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