Detroit-based American Roads LLC has announced it will lower tolls on the Baldwin County Beach Express for both visitors and residents through Labor Day in an effort to reduce traffic, particularly on the bridge and Highway 59.
“Beach Express GO! will cut summer toll rates by more than 20 percent for visitors. Some local residents will see savings of over 70 percent below the standard rate,” American Roads announced. “Designed to immediately ease congestion on Highway 59, the program includes a plan to move traffic more freely over the bridge during periods of high demand.”
The company also announced plans to make one lane of the toll plaza reversible for some situations, such as hurricane evacuations, and to expand electronic tolling, which prevents travelers from having to stop.
“After Labor Day, we will start construction for the improvements, including adding a third, reversible lane on the bridge to accommodate two lanes of traffic in one direction, as well as widening the toll plaza and part of the southbound Foley Beach Express by the plaza. Electronic tolling will further help by eliminating the need to stop for toll payment,” said Neal Belitsky, CEO of American Roads.
Electronic tolling is an option being considered not just in Baldwin County. Belitsky has said the state law allowing toll companies to access driver information provides bigger opportunities — such as potential funding for the much-desired Interstate 10 Mobile Bay bridge.
“We now have access, working with law enforcement, to get the owners’ identification,” Belitsky said of the program. “It gives us the ability to send a bill to people and collect on passed-through tolls. It helps with the integrity of the entire system.”
As for the beach expressway, tolls will be reduced from $3.50 to $2.75 for visitors, and Orange Beach residents will pay $1.25 cash or $1 electronically.
“We greatly appreciate American Roads and this good-faith effort,” Orange Beach Mayor Tony Kennon said of the reduced tolls. “It’s a big deal. This is a great first step.”
Gulf Shores Mayor Robert Craft responded similarly: “This is a wonderful alternative and we like this first step. We are still looking forward to a long-term solution that carries us beyond this time frame.”
Both local leaders have been somewhat critical of the toll bridge in the past, with Kennon even suggesting at one point that the city build a bridge around it. But for now, it seems both parties have come to at least a temporary agreement that may continue to work as capacity on the bridge increases and traffic, hopefully, goes down.
“We can put through 1,000 vehicles an hour now,” an American Roads official said. When the the nearby Canal Road project is completed, though, “we hope to put through 3,000 vehicles per hour.”