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Opinion | Alabama wants its own bridge to nowhere

You may have seen ads on TV recently talking about a bridge project in South Alabama. If you hadn’t heard of this project before those ads, you’re not alone.

Most people, including legislators, were not aware of the plans to build this $87 million taxpayer-funded bridge to nowhere that even many Baldwin County residents are opposed to.

So what exactly is this bridge, and why are some state leaders pushing it?

First proposed in 2015, this bridge would connect the Foley Beach Expressway to Canal Road in Orange Beach. Supporters say this will help alleviate traffic during the busy summer months, as well as during hurricane evacuations.

Of course, there’s always another side to the story.

The first problem with this bridge is that it actually makes traffic problems worse, not better. That’s because there’s no way to connect this bridge to the beach highway, so it would actually dump more traffic onto, rather than off of, Canal Road.

This is why local Baldwin County residents have dubbed it the “bridge to nowhere,” even starting a Facebook page with that same name, and argue that it is nothing more than a waste of taxpayer money.

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Aside from the bridge not actually reducing any traffic congestion, it is also redundant.

There are already two bridges in the area: The Foley Beach Expressway and the Highway 59 Holmes Bridge. Now they want to build a third bridge?

Last summer, the company that runs the Foley Expressway released their plans that would make the expressway less expensive and more efficient in order to reduce traffic. They even reached an agreement with local officials to widen the expressway bridge with a third lane that could be reversible depending on traffic needs.

But the negotiation fell apart when the state requested that the company give the bridge to the City of Orange Beach at no cost. When the company rejected that demand, the state responded by bringing back this $87 million taxpayer-funded bridge to nowhere.

Alabama has 600 bridges that are in such bad shape that school buses can’t cross them. Some of those bridges are located in Etowah, Cherokee and DeKalb Counties. How can the state justify spending $87 million on a third bridge at the beach when children’s lives are literally at stake throughout the rest of Alabama?

And it’s not just our children who are at risk on our roads and bridges. Alabama’s traffic fatality rates are twice the national average: 13.7 per 100,000 residents in Alabama compared to the national rate of 7.0 per 100,000 residents.

While the death rate can be attributed to a variety of reasons (such as not having enough state troopers to enforce traffic laws and the loss of rural hospitals that makes it harder to receive emergency care), a major cause of death is our poor roads and bridges that cause deadly traffic accidents.

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So when we have so many unsafe roads and bridges throughout our state, why are we preparing to spend $87 million on a third bridge that actually makes traffic at the beach worse instead of better?

For almost the same amount of money that the state wants to spend on this third bridge at the beach, we could finish I-759 (estimated cost: $52 million), complete the four-laning of Hwy 411 between Etowah and Cherokee Counties ($18 million), complete the four-laning of Hwy 77 in Attalla ($6 million) and either replace the Southside Bridge ($20 million) or six-lane Meighan Bridge ($20 million).

Of course, there are needs throughout our state. But that’s the point: People are risking their lives every day driving over unsafe roads and bridges while the state wants to build a third bridge to the beach that will actually make traffic worse instead of better.

Unfortunately, the wastefulness and redundancy of this bridge is only the start of what’s wrong with this project.

A lawsuit filed by Baldwin County’s revenue commissioner and the private company that runs the Foley Expressway toll bridge has revealed that the state has not conducted a viability study for the project, nor has it held any public hearings on the project.

Just like the $800 million plan to build four new “super prisons,” something just isn’t right about this $87 million “bridge to nowhere.” The taxpayers deserve answers. There are far too many other, more critical road and bridge projects than building a third bridge to the beach – especially when that bridge would make traffic problems worse instead of better.

Craig Ford represents Gadsden and Etowah County in the Alabama House of Representatives. He is currently running for the State Senate in District 10 as an Independent.

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Craig Ford is the owner of Ford Insurance and the Gadsden Messenger. He represented Etowah County in the Alabama House of Representatives for 18 years.

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