BY JOHN MULLEN
Through years of service on the Orange Beach City Council and as a three-term mayor, Tony Kennon says one lesson still rings true across the years.
“Dealing with state and federal agencies, it’s becoming clearer and clearer to me we’re getting no help,” Kennon said at a recent council meeting. “Canal Road is going to have another lane added to it because we came up with 60-65 percent of the money through BP funds. Our lobbyists tell us if Trump does an infrastructure plan, that it will be all based on matching.”
With more condos on the drawing board and single-family building permits close to record levels — in both Orange Beach and Gulf Shores — the constant traffic nightmares during the peak tourist season are just going to worsen, Kennon says. His opinion is shared by Gulf Shores Mayor Robert Craft.
In meetings on Sept. 19 and Sept. 25, the two councils raised lodging taxes by 2 percentage points and earmarked the new collections to find and build traffic solutions as well as help with the clean beach initiative. The new tax takes effect May 1 in both cities.
“I feeling strongly that building a road through the park solves our traffic problems for many, many years to come,” Kennon said. “And the impetus is going to be paying for it. I don’t think the state will ever do it. I think the state will have a hard time saying no if we say ‘here’s the money.’”
Other projects Kennon would like to see completed are the five-laning of Canal Road from The Wharf to Alabama 161, with a possible bypass south to a new intersection of the two roadways.
Gulf Shores’ wish list includes adding a third lane to the southbound side of the Intracoastal Waterway. Included in that fix would be a pedestrian/bicycle path attached to the side of the bridge.
Others in Gulf Shores include median work on Alabama 182, the main beach road, improvements to the Alabama 59 intersections at County Road 6 and County Road 8, and widening portions of each of those roads.
The city would also like to see a new road from County Road 8 and the Foley Beach Express south to County Road 4 and into the city’s Business and Aviation Park. Public Works Director Mark Acreman said the state is actively acquiring rights of way for that project.
But money is needed, officials from both cities say. In Orange Beach, officials say the added 2 percentage points would generate more than $4 million, and in Gulf Shores it would add more than $2 million to city coffers. In 2016 Orange Beach’s revenue from the current 5 percent lodging tax was $15.7 million. Gulf Shores collected $7.7 million.
The tax until May 1 will be 11 percent with each city getting 5 percent, the state 4 percent and 2 percent going to Gulf Shores and Orange Beach Tourism to market Alabama’s beachfront.
In comparison with some other coastal towns, Gulf Shores and Orange Beach’s tax would still be lower than Mobile’s, even with Pensacola and Panama City and higher than Destin, Navarre Beach, Walton County and Biloxi.