LOXLEY – Recent events such as Hurricane Sally and the threat from Hurricane Delta show the importance of an additional north-south highway for Baldwin County, supporters of a toll-authority amendment said.
Baldwin County voters will vote Nov. 3 on a referendum that would allow the county to create a toll authority. The authority would finance the extension of the Baldwin Beach Express from Interstate 10 north to Interstate 65.
Baldwin County Sheriff Huey “Hoss” Mack said one advantage of the new highway would be better hurricane evacuation.
“In Hurricane Sally, we did not see a large evacuation because it was initially categorized as a Category 1 storm,” Mack said. “If we do see evacuation, if we have larger storms, we need this new evacuation route as an alternative because in some storms, a lot of people do evacuate to the north or to the east and this would give us that needed evacuation route.”
Mack and other project supporters spoke Sept. 30 at the northern end of the Beach Express at I-10.
Patrick Bussey, a member of the Choose 2 Coalition supporting the measure, said the proposal would not allow tolls to be added to any existing roads or any future roads other than the Beach Express extension.
“This is only paid for by users of this road, primarily by tourists,” Bussey said. “The legislation that’s written for this is specific to this section of road that currently does not exist. It cannot toll any other road and so, as far as tolling future roads, that is not part of this at all. We wanted to make sure that is specific to that and not opening the door in the future.”
State Sen. Chris Elliott said construction will cost $200 million. The state and county do not have enough money to build the road. He said the project is needed to cut the increasing traffic congestion on roads such as Alabama 59.
“The benefit for Baldwin County residents, those who will be voting for this, is this moves tourist traffic off the rest of our roads,” Elliott said. “That’s the benefit to our voters. We have congestion on our roads, 59 in particular, but others as well. This moves tourist traffic off those roads onto this road and the tourists get to pay for it.”
If voters pass the amendment, the County Commission would set up a toll authority to study traffic and determine how much to charge to use the new highway when completed. The toll would be used to finance bonds to pay for construction, Elliott said.
Elliott said most of the planning for the project is done and work can begin as soon as the money is available.
“The good thing about it is the permitting is done,” Elliott said. “The engineering, the plans are done. The wetland mitigation is done. The federal highway approval for interchanges here and at 65 are done. This is about as shovel ready as you can get a project.”