GULF SHORES, Ala. (WKRG) — The Alabama Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Alabama Department of Transportation Friday, allowing ALDOT to move forward with construction of a new bridge over the Intracoastal Waterway in Gulf Shores after a Montgomery Circuit Judge had halted the work back in May.
The case pitted owners of the Foley Beach Express Toll Bridge, The Baldwin County Bridge Company, which had asked Montgomery Circuit Judge Jimmy Pool to halt construction while they pursued a lawsuit alleging that the new ALDOT bridge was unnecessary and could put them out of business.
“We are a great place to come visit, and traffic and transportation is a problem and is getting worse,” Gulf Shores Mayor Robert Craft said, pointing the 8 million people who visit Baldwin County each year. “Trying to get an ambulance service out of here is a challenge, and a new free bridge will add to that.”
The Alabama Supreme Court ruling addressed three concerns raised by the initial lawsuit. In the ruling, released Friday morning, the court said, “After reviewing the briefs submitted by the parties in all three of these matters, we now conclude that BCBC’s claim on which the preliminary injunction is based is barred by State immunity. Accordingly, the trial court has no subject-matter jurisdiction over that claim and the preliminary injunction must be reversed.”
ALDOT spokesperson Tony Harris called the decision a victory for residents and visitors alike.
“This is an important victory for Alabama’s coastal residents and millions of visitors to our state,” Harris said in a statement. “The need for a new, free bridge is obvious. Not a single justice on the Supreme Court voted to uphold the injunction. The Supreme Court’s decision means construction can restart on this project that will help relieve traffic congestion and provide an additional evacuation route. Construction can move forward in the coming weeks.”
BCBC also issued a statement in response to the decision, on behalf of company president Neal Belitsky. BCBC said it was disappointed in the decision but is exploring next steps.
“In light of today’s decision, BCBC is evaluating its options, including seeking money damages from a Montgomery jury to compensate the company for the effective taking of its property,” according to the company’s statement. “Any damages awarded to BCBC by a Montgomery jury—which could be over $100 million—would only add to the price tag for Director Cooper’s $120 million unnecessary new bridge and impose even greater costs on the taxpayers of Alabama. Ultimately we remain hopeful that there can still be accountability, even if under another name.”
Despite the public viewing the lawsuit as a battle between Gulf Shores and Orange Beach, Craft said he understands how Orange Beach Mayor Tony Kennon is doing what’s best for his community.
“This has looked like an Orange Beach and Gulf Shores fight. It’s not that. It is not that,” Craft said.
Kennon refused to speak on the issue.
Construction of the 375-foot, two-lane ALDOT bridge began in October 2022 in response to traffic congestion on Highway 59.
The project is expected to cost $120 million. Craft couldn’t give a completion date, but he said it should take a few years.
This is a developing story. WKRG News 5 will update this story as we learn more.