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ALDOT’s purchase of Foley Beach Express Bridge will be finalized on May 23

Under the Alabama Department of Transportation’s ownership, the Foley Beach Express Bridge will be toll-free.

Foley Beach Express Bridge Tim James
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Representatives of the Alabama Department of Transportation and representatives of the Baldwin County Beach Company will meet on May 23 to finalize the sale of the Foley Beach Express Bridge.

Under terms first agreed to on April 18, ALDOT will pay the Baldwin County Bridge Company $57 million and the city of Orange Beach $3 million.

In 2000, Orange Beach loaned $12 million to Baldwin County Bridge Company, which was repaid with ten annual installments of $1.2 million plus a share of all tolls collected. Since 2014, Orange Beach has received thirty cents of every toll. Before 2014, Orange Beach’s share was determined by a sliding scale based on how many people used the bridge.

By the end of 2023, Orange Beach had made a tidy $7.2 million in total profit. The $3 million payment from ALDOT will bring that over $10 million, plus Orange Beach’s share of tolls collected so far in 2024.

In a statement released when ALDOT’s purchase of the bridge was first announced, Orange Beach mayor Tony Kennon said the deal “was made possible by the city’s willingness to forego annual financial benefits in order to achieve improved traffic flow for Orange Beach and Gulf Shores citizens and visitors.”

However, the Foley Beach Express Bridge was a disappointment to many other early investors. In 2013, the Wall Street Journal used the bridge as an example of toll-based infrastructure that significantly underperformed what investors had been led to expect.

Investors were reportedly told that the bridge would have 10 million users a year by 2012. In 2012, the actual number was 2.3 million. Ten years later, in 2022, the year with the highest usage on record to date, just over 5.5 million vehicles used the bridge.

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The bridge has also been a significant source of political acrimony in recent years.

In 2023, ALDOT began planning to build a new, toll-free bridge that would have competed with the Foley Beach Express Bridge. The Baldwin County Bridge Company sued ALDOT, claiming that ALDOT director John Cooper chose to back the project due to a personal vendetta against the company.

A Montgomery County circuit judge found in favor of the Baldwin County Bridge Company at first, but the state Supreme Court eventually ruled that ALDOT’s project could continue.

After the Supreme Court’s ruling, the Baldwin County Bridge Company raised the toll for using the bridge to its current level of $5 with an additional $1 surcharge per additional axle above two. Before the increase, the base price had remained unchanged at $3.50 since 2010.

Under ALDOT’s ownership, there will be no tolls on the Foley Beach Express Bridge. Tony W. Harris, ALDOT’s chief of communication & government relations, says that this means every route to Alabama’s beaches will now be toll-free.

Chance Phillips is a reporting intern at the Alabama Political Reporter. You can reach him at [email protected].

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