By John Mullen
Chris Ybarra is happy the state listened when he asked for a change in a roadway plan in front of his business, Cotton’s Restaurant in Orange Beach.
The initial configuration in the U-turn project at his front entrance would have drastically hurt his bottom line, Ybarra said.
“My projections were it would have cut my business probably somewhere between 50 to 75 percent,” he said. “It would have choked my business off.”
But Ybarra is one of very few people happy about the new traffic patterns on Alabama 182 from Cotton Bayou Beach Access on the east to West Loop Road on the west.
But his happiness was short-lived.
“It’s had a negative impact on my business because of the construction, and they didn’t get completed until the 8th or 10th of May,” Ybarra said. “The summer was not as promising.”
Up and down the beach road, business owners are saying the same thing.
“It’s been a nightmare,” Café Beignet owner Al Joseph said.
Joseph said his business depends on impulse buying. When cars pass by and see his sign, they might stop to try his beignets.
“They’ve taken that away,” he said. “Now you can’t turn in. You have to go down there and make a U-turn, and by then you’ve seen two or three other places. It’s killed our inside business. We no longer have the west-to-east trade turning in. They have to go down to Publix, almost to state Route 161.”
Off-beach businesses report they are feeling the impact as well. Tacky Jack’s CFO Ken Kichler said business at the Orange Beach store isn’t growing at the same rate it did in 2016, and he believes part of the reason is the new road configuration.
In July he was in west Orange Beach, which has a majority of condo rentals, and put Tacky Jack’s in his GPS.
“It tells you to make a left turn on 161, but you can’t make that turn anymore,” Kichler said. “The next direction, it basically took you to the bottom of the bridge and you had to do a U-turn.”
ALDOT spokesperson Cheyenne West said the state is working with GPS companies to get the glitches worked out. She also said the state received negative comments when the road first opened. She said those have faded as drivers learn to navigate the road.
City Administrator Ken Grimes said in a three-year period there were more than 270 accidents on the same stretch of road, including five fatalities. He said more than 70 percent of those involved left-turn movements.
“Is it more of an inconvenience?” Grimes asked. “And the answer is yes. But it does flow and you are safer.”
More U-turns are coming. Phase II of the median project will start at West Loop Road and go west to the Romar Beach Access. Construction is scheduled to start in October.