MONTGOMERY — Testimony in the case of Baldwin County Bridge Company, LLC v. John R. Cooper gave some insight into the motivation of the Alabama Department of Transportation’s (ALDOT) director in getting a new bridge built in south Alabama.
The testimony didn’t reveal any conspiracy to kill the bridge company or force it into bankruptcy, but it did show that was a possibility.
RELATED: Construction on new Baldwin County bridge ramps up as hearings continue in lawsuit against ALDOT
The toll bridge company, which operates the Baldwin Beach Express bridge in Orange Beach, is suing ALDOT director John Cooper over plans to build the new bridge close to the toll bridge. The company claimed it could put the Beach Express out of business.
Wednesday, the defense first called former ALDOT civil engineer William Adams, who left ALDOT in June 2022. He said ALDOT considers all cost-effective plans and looks at what would impact the environment the least for all bridge projects. Adams confirmed ALDOT held a public involvement hearing in 2018 and provided sign-in sheets. The conclusion of that hearing was that the bridge project would proceed.
On cross-examination, Adams said the purpose of the project for Cooper was to get traffic off of Highway 59. He said the original plan was a four-lane bridge, but that has since changed to a two-lane. He said that the plan would not redirect 40% of the traffic off Hwy 59, as ALDOT originally wanted.
Adams gave insight into emails he received from Cooper. He said the message from June 2017 was to get the new bridge built promptly before he retires. He said Cooper never mentioned public comment but realized from emails from Cooper that the project was important to him.
Emails from Cooper have already been controversial since the case began. The judge in the Circuit Court case, the Honorable Jimmy Pool, ordered Cooper to produce discovery documents, including communications between himself and chiefs of staff with Ivey's office. However, that order was stopped by the Alabama Supreme Court almost immediately with an emergency order claiming executive or deliberative process privileges.
In other testimony, ALDOT officials said they handed over Alabama Department of Environmental Management (ADEM) permits to the plaintiff. However, attorneys for the Baldwin County Bridge Company claimed some ADEM paperwork is still missing.
Another ALDOT witness, Richard Caudle with Skipper Consulting, said the Beach Express toll bridge has excess capacity and that adding lanes to that bridge would not impact congestion on Hwy 59. Officials with BCBC previously offered to make improvements and add lanes if ALDOT would not build a new bridge. But officials believe the new bridge is more than traffic congestion but also about giving residents a way out during hurricane emergencies.
A study showed 53,900 cars going over the Hwy 59 bridge, which engineers have said is in bad shape. Approximately 10,200 people go over the Beach Express toll bridge daily.
A study using cellular data to track traffic showed the new bridge could significantly impact the toll bridge traffic. Caudle said the new bridge would take traffic from Beach Express and Hwy 59. He believes the new bridge will operate at capacity on day one.
Attorneys for BCBC attempted to point out Caudle’s testimony, especially on the likelihood of toll avoidance, was speculative and simply his opinion.
There are still two more days of testimony in the hearing left. Those dates are set for April 28 and May 1.
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