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Bridges battle continues: Fate of ALDOT’s constitutional authority hangs in the balance

The lawsuit surrounds the state’s effort to build a free-access bridge to connect Alabama’s beach cities.

Intercoastal Waterway bridge rendering in Baldwin County. ALDOT

The Alabama Supreme Court on Friday denied the emergency motion to stay the preliminary injunction in the ongoing court battle between the Alabama Department of Transportation and toll bridge operators Baldwin County Bridge Company.

The lawsuit surrounds the state’s decision to build a free-access bridge that would compete with the toll bridge connecting Alabama’s beach cities.

But the outcome of the legal skirmish over the two bridges could ultimately determine the fate of ALDOT’s constitutional authority to build roads and bridges anywhere in the state, according to court observers.

In its lawsuit, BCBC claimed that ALDOT director John Cooper acted in bad faith when planning the new bridge. Montgomery County Circuit Court Judge Jimmy Pool agreed with BCBC and halted construction of the state’s bridge. 

ALDOT sought to reverse the lower court’s ruling; however, in a 5-3 decision, the ALSC refused the request, leaving the future of the alternative free-access bridge in doubt.

Legal observers don’t believe the recent ALSC decision portents how the court fight will eventually play out but do think it could be a long process due to the high-powered attorneys on either side of the case.

Famed Montgomery lawyer Joe Espy represents BCBC while Cooper’s council is legendary Birmingham-base law firm, Balch & Bingham.

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The Supreme Court’s denial of the emergency motion to stay the preliminary injunction entered by Judge Pool can be seen as a practical matter because it’s challenging to unbuild a bridge. So the preliminary injunction ceased the construction activities until the full trial can be held.

“The Alabama Supreme Court has decided it wants to review the facts and full record before making a decision about the preliminary injunction,” said ALDOT Government Relations Manager Tony Harris after the ruling. “While we are disappointed the Court has left the halt to construction in place for now, we are optimistic that the final ruling on our appeal will be in favor of building the new, free bridge.”

Espy told reporter John Sharp the court’s decision was a “victory for Alabama taxpayers.”

Chief Justice Tom Parker, Associate Justices Greg Shaw, Kelli Wise, Tommy Bryan, and Jay Mitchell voted to deny the stay. Associate Justices Will Sellers, Brad Mendheim, and Sarah Stewart dissented. Associate Justice Greg Cook recused without comment.

Bill Britt is editor-in-chief at the Alabama Political Reporter and host of The Voice of Alabama Politics. You can email him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter.

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