FAIRHOPE – Members of the Eastern Shore Metropolitan Planning Organization will wait until October to vote on supporting a proposal to create a county toll authority to finance the last leg of the Baldwin Beach Express.
The MPO Policy Board voted Wednesday, July 22, to postpone a vote on a resolution endorsing the toll authority.
Baldwin County voters will go to the polls on Nov. 3 to vote on a constitutional amendment allowing the county to create a toll authority to finance the 24.5-mile project.
County Commission Chair Billie Jo Underwood, an MPO member, said that without the authority, the county cannot afford to build the road.
“What we’re trying to figure out is if we can get the people of Baldwin County to vote for a toll authority so that we can look into getting this thing built because we can’t afford this,” Underwood said. “We don’t have the constitutional debt limit to borrow $200 million.”
Commissioner Joe Davis said the amendment would allow the authority to only create a toll road on the new section of Beach Express between Interstate 10 and US 31 south of Interstate 65. He said the authority is needed to build the road, but a proposal to build a toll bridge across the Mobile River and extend the toll to the I-10 Bayway last year have many residents still upset about the idea of tolls.
“Between now and November, there will be a considerable effort to communicate to the citizens of Baldwin County the uniqueness of this particular project relative to the four-letter word ‘toll,’ and not to be confused in any way with the bridge project in Mobile,” Davis said.
Daphne City Councilman Ron Scott said he supported the project but felt the MPO needed more time to study the request for endorsement.
“I would really like to see what the county’s going to do as far as educating the public between now and our October meeting,” Scott said. “I’d have a better confidence level if we wanted to vote on a resolution in support in October rather than today.”
Fairhope Mayor Karin Wilson said that before the board takes action on as sensitive a subject as tolls, more study is needed. She also questioned a statement that the county had spent $12 million to $15 million on preparations for the road before the vote was taken allowing plans to move forward.
“If the citizens vote this down for whatever reason, then what? It seems like that should have happened before you started spending the money,” Wilson said.
Daphne Mayor Dane Haygood, chairman of the MPO Policy Board, said the county needs to continue efforts to educate the public about a topic as important as the Beach Express extension.
“I think that this roadway is desperately needed,” Haygood said. “It will be great for Baldwin County. The route’s going to I-65 down to I-10 are a bit difficult and that affects the Eastern Shore, going to Montgomery, heading anywhere north, so I know it’s been a project that y’all inherited and I think the citizens will rally around it and I do think it’s important to make sure we have the facts and make sure the public is aware of them.”
The MPO assists with transportation planning for the area that includes Spanish Fort, Daphne, Fairhope, Loxley and nearby unincorporated areas. The Policy Board’s next meeting is scheduled for Oct. 21.