FOLEY - The long-awaited two-mile Fern Avenue extension in Foley has finally opened, connecting Highway 59 and the Foley Beach Express. The project began in May 2018, and faced a number of delays including weather and the installation of new lights at the Highway 59 intersection.
Now completed, the new extension will serve the community in two ways: as an alternative east/west route and as a faster means for first responders from Orange Beach and Gulf Shores to travel to South Baldwin Regional Medical Center. Alternatively, the route will provide faster travel for Foley first responders assisting neighboring beach municipalities.
“We are pleased to offer our citizens another east/west alternative between Highway 59 and the Beach Express,” said Foley Mayor John Koniar. “More importantly, it will give our neighbors to the south quicker access to the hospital, saving time and potentially saving lives.”
With Foley’s recent growth, the downtown area is no stranger to seeing thousands of vehicles a day passing through during peak seasons. This congestion causes delayed response times for first responders both responding to emergencies and transporting patients to the hospital. The new extension allows responders the ability to bypass the downtown entirely.
“The Fern extension is a great help to us as we transport patients to South Baldwin Regional Medical Center,” said Orange Beach Fire Chief Mike Kimmerling. “This extension will save time and allow our emergency vehicles a more direct travel route to the hospital.”
To further the efforts to provide a direct and safe route to the hospital, the Foley Fire Department and Orange Beach Fire Department worked together to install two traffic signal preemptive systems on the lights along the new extension.
The Foley system was first utilized when Fire Chief Joey Darby brought the idea to the council to begin installing the systems in phases throughout key areas of the city. These areas saw high traffic volumes in peak seasons, causing delayed response times and tight maneuvering for fire trucks. The system assists by allowing firefighters to control traffic signals during emergency situations, so they can better control traffic flow and clear intersections for first responders. Phase one was completed as a success, and phase two began in December 2019.
The intersections planned for phase two were located at Highway 59 and Riviera and Highway 59 and Tanger. Kimmerling contacted Darby concerning the intersections that will now be used frequently by Orange Beach and Gulf Shores: the intersections at Foley Beach Express and Highway 59, and the new signal at Highway 59 and Fern Avenue. Kimmerling’s department offered to purchase the equipment necessary to install on the traffic signals if Foley would agree to include the intersections in phase two.
“Orange Beach purchased the equipment, which is a little over $3,000 per intersection for hardware, and then we paid to add it to our system and buy the service,” Darby said. “I think it’s a win/win for us, it certainly adds additional intersections with minimal costs to us, it gives them better and safer routes to travel to South Baldwin Regional Medical Center, and it keeps them off Highway 59.”
The Fern Avenue extension was a cooperative agreement between ALDOT and the City of Foley. Foley applied for a grant of Federal ATRIP dollars, which was awarded and administered by ALDOT. Construction funding was 80 percent federal and 20 percent local. Currently, there is a crossover for north-bound traffic on the Foley Beach Express to access Fern Avenue, but city officials anticipate a traffic signal will be installed in the future based on traffic counts.