By John Mullen
Moving the intersection of Alabama 180, or Canal Road, and Alabama 161 a few hundred yards south is a remedy officials here believe will improve traffic — and cost a bundle.
At the same time, the move might create an entrance, with a traffic light, to a parcel of land north of the Justice Center where Rouses wants to build a new supermarket.
“That’s exactly one thing that’s on my mind,” Orange Beach Councilman Jeff Silvers said. “We know that we’ll have to pay for some of that with the state.”
Farther west, Gulf Shores Mayor Robert Craft said his city has traffic worries, too.
“We’ve got issues over the bridge and trying to fix our bridge in Gulf Shores,” Craft said. “We’ve got people lined up in the left lane to go to school, and they have folks coming over the top trying to go to work, and we have accidents there on a regular basis.”
Both cities began discussions in Tuesday council work sessions on raising money to help the state fix some of those problems. Both resort towns are considering raising the lodging tax 2 percentage points, which would make the overall rate 13 percent.
“The state can’t do anything without some matching money and it’s expensive stuff,” Craft said. “In order to get them to spend money down here, you’ve got to meet them somewhere around 50-50. That means we’ve got to come up with a significant amount of money to do improvements to highways.”
The current lodging tax rate is 11 percent with the state getting 4 percent; each city collects 5 percent and 2 percent goes to the island Convention and Visitors Bureau to woo tourists to vacation in both cities and the Fort Morgan peninsula.
Both cities say the extra funds — about $5 million for Orange Beach and just under $3 million for Gulf Shores — will be used for roads and the clean beach initiative, Leave Only Footprints.
Orange Beach spends nearly $1 million per year for the beach program and Gulf Shores spends about $600,000.
“To do any of that, it takes money and neither of us has that kind of monies for that without taking away from what we need to spend for the rest of the city and our residents,” Craft said.
He doesn’t believe the added tax will keep visitors away.
In 2016, Gulf Shores collected $7.7 million in lodging taxes. The majority, $4.3 million, was used in the general fund budget. Another $2.6 million was used for a variety of projects including Leave Only Footprints, and about $300,000 remained in reserve for beach activities.
Orange Beach collected $15.7 million in lodging taxes in 2016, with most spent on maintaining infrastructure and the beach-cleaning program.
Statewide in 2016, Alabama collected more than $61 million in its 4 percent share of the lodging tax. More than $21 million — 34 percent — was collected in Baldwin County alone. Travelers spent $13.3 billion in Alabama in 2016, $4.2 billion of that in Baldwin County.