The director of the Alabama Dept. of Transportation (ALDOT) is facing a lawsuit from a private toll bridge operator, who says its plan to construct a public, toll-free bridge near the state’s Gulf Coast is a deliberate attempt to undermine its business and cost it hundreds of millions of dollars.
John Cooper, in his capacity as director of ALDOT, is named in the suit brought by the Baldwin County Bridge Co., (BCBC) filed in Montgomery County Circuit Court Oct. 20, for its plan to construct a new bridge over the Intracoastal Waterway that ALDOT says will alleviate congestion and provide another safe evacuation route for residents.
The case is set for a hearing Nov. 29. BCBC asks the court to stop construction of the new bridge, for damages in a to-be-determined amount, and to compensate it for land condemned from the company to construct the bridge.
In the complaint, BCBC says it built its bridge in 2000 “at its own expense to meet an urgent public need” and that Cooper is “abusing the power of the State of Alabama to intentionally harm BCBC and to undermine its fairly bargained-for contractual rights.”
It accuses Cooper of having “been on a mission to destroy BCBC’s contractual rights and to force BCBC out of business.”
Tony Harris, spokesman for ALDOT, says in a statement that the state simply wants to build a bridge to reduce traffic congestion and improve quality of life.
“The foreign-owned toll bridge company wants to protect their profits without regard to how long people wait in traffic,” he says. “This frivolous lawsuit will waste taxpayer money and seeks to delay a local improvement project the area clearly needs.”
Any delay, he says, will only make traffic problems in the area worse.
The Baldwin County Bridge Co. operates the Foley Beach Express (FBE) and the Beach Express Bridge in question, a privately owned toll bridge which offers an alternate route to Gulf Shores and Orange Beach, according to its website, which says “due to the small fee we charge and fewer managed intersections on the approach, traffic usually is lighter and moves faster than state highway 59.”
It says the route can cut travel time by 20 minutes, bypassing traffic lights and maintaining a higher speed limit than highway 59, charging drivers $2.75 for vehicles with two axles, adding $1 for every additional axle beyond two.
“For years, ALDOT engaged in good faith negotiations, but the toll bridge company refused to agree to any requirements to reduce traffic congestion and instead demanded a 50-year guarantee that no other bridge would be built in the area, regardless of need,” Harris says. “This company wanted a promise that their monopoly, which has never worked, would be protected for another 50 years. It’s hard to imagine a worse idea.”
The lawsuit claims ALDOT’s planned bridge, at 1.1 miles from the Beach Express Bridge, is “admittedly unnecessary,” causes condemnation of the company’s property and destroys its investment value.
The bridge company says four years of negotiations with ALDOT have been undone by Cooper’s actions, including offers from BCBC to build a bridge adjacent to its existing bridge, waive tolls for locals, or make financial contributions to the area’s infrastructure needs.
“Director Cooper and his Department’s conduct have caused and will continue to cause the value of BCBC’s remaining property to be totally destroyed or, at the very least, to decline by hundreds of millions of dollars,” says the 26-page complaint.
Bridge Work Already Underway
Opelika, Ala.- based Scott Bridge Co. has begun work on the two-lane bridge with a completion date set for Jan. 1, 2026, for the project that ALDOT says will alleviate traffic congestion on State Route 59, improve connectivity in the community and provide an additional emergency evacuation route.
The bridge will be the third to cross the Intracoastal Waterway in the area, joining the toll bridge connected to the Foley Beach Express and the bridge on State Route 59, which ALDOT says is frequently congested with traffic.
The 4.2-mile, $51.85-million project will connect Canal Road, or State Route 180, in Gulf Shores to an intersection with Cotton Creek Drive, continuing on to a new intersection with the Foley Beach Express (FBE) near where the FBE crosses the Intracoastal near the popular Wharf amphitheater.
A roundabout is planned for Canal Road to handle traffic using the new bridge—with 75 ft of clearance over the canal—will have two 12-ft travel lanes and 10-ft shoulders for a total width of 46 ft 5 in., according to ALDOT.
Two alternative options are being considered for the northern segment of the project, at the new intersection with the FBE.
Alternate 1 provides a bridge over exit ramps for southbound traffic while maintaining northbound traffic lanes, allowing drivers to merge on and off the FBE without stopping.
Alternate 1A reconfigures the FBE to add a roundabout to handle traffic heading for Gulf Shores but not crossing the Intracoastal, with bypasses for drivers heading southbound to the new bridge, and for those heading northbound to stay on the FBE.
“Like the many Alabamians and visitors who are tired of sitting in traffic on Alabama’s coast, we look forward to completion of the free (bridge),” Harris says.