Readers know that this newspaper was a vocal critic of plans presented late last year for a Mobile Bay toll bridge. The proposed six-dollar toll for each one-way trip, including a new toll added on for the existing Interstate 10 bridge, would have upended many lives and harmed economic development. We are glad that proposal has died.
But we wholeheartedly support a local Baldwin County Amendment appearing on the upcoming Nov. 3 ballot that , if passed, will create a toll authority in Baldwin County for the sole purpose of extending the Baldwin Beach Express from its current terminus at Interstate 10 north for 22 miles and a direct connection with Interstate 65. The amendment to the 1901 Alabama State Constitution will appear on the back of the ballot labeled Baldwin County Local Amendment 2 and will be voted on only by Baldwin County voters. We all should vote YES on this ballot question.
We support the creation of a toll road authority, a public corporation that will build, improve and maintain the extended Beach Express for many reasons.
First, safety. Hurricane Sally’s quick turn towards Baldwin County emphasizes the need for more and faster evacuation capability for Baldwin residents and visitors. The tolled Beach Express would provide this additional escape capacity.
Second, tourism. Tourists’ main complaint when surveyed about their visits here center around traffic. After a long I-65 ride southward and into Baldwin, tourists face over an hour more driving through Bay Minette and the many towns along Highway 59, or get onto I-10 east for a few miles , then onto the Beach Express before finally reaching the beaches. A smoother, faster ride on the new toll road will improve the tourism experience and keep them coming back.
Third, economic development. The Beach Express extension will run along the east side of the now-vacant Baldwin County Megasite that sits off I-65. Building the toll road will mean the Megasite will have easy access to not one, but two interstate highways, both north/south-oriented and east/west-oriented. Interstate highway adjacency to two national arteries will improve the chances of landing a major industrial occupant.
Fourth, congestion. The new road will relieve congestion on Highway 59.
Fifth, accommodate growth. Baldwin is growing fast and that’s not likely to stop. We need the infrastructure now to accommodate the future population expansion that is headed our way.
The roads and bridges needed for the new portion of The Beach Express are projected to cost $200 million. And the amount of the toll is yet to be determined to cover those costs. But all the current free road options will remain in place making an exorbitant fee uncompetitive and therefor unlikely. And a toll is completely voluntary (unlike the Mobile Bridge options presented). Only drivers choosing convenience will pay. The majority of these riders are projected to be tourists and not local residents footing the bill for this project.
But what about Bay Minette? The Beach Express will be a bypass around the businesses in Bay Minette where tourists sometimes stop. Not a problem says Bay Minette Mayor Bob Wills, a vocal supporter of the Beach Express extension, saying the overwhelming benefits of that new road, like what has occurred in Robertsdale, Foley, Loxley and Summerdale, will outweigh any reduction in Highway 59 traffic and shopping through Bay Minette. We can only imagine the giant impact a Megasite industry attracted to access to two interstate highways will have on the entire Bay Minette and North Baldwin region.
And Local Amendment 2 passage will be good for Eastern Shore residents as well, hastening their north-bound trips and making personal, business and tourism visitors to the Eastern Shore have a faster, more convenient ride. Tolls will finance the road and bridges on the Beach Express Extension so this project will not be an expense to any Baldwin residents, but will benefit all with a faster, safer transportation option and will facilitate and encourage more tourism sales tax revenue which helps all Baldwin residents.
There will be many very important issues on the Nov. 3 ballot including the presidential race and the contest for Alabama’s US junior senator. But remember to turn over your ballot after casting those important votes and look for the four local Baldwin County amendments on the back. Amendment 2, if approved, will create the toll authority corporation whose only toll authority in the county will be over the proposed new Beach Express extension.
Vote yes on Baldwin County Local Amendment 2 on Nov. 3.