The long-anticipated widening of Canal Road in Orange Beach is expected to begin after the busy summer season, but two bridges state and local officials want to build across the Intracoastal Waterway are both waiting on permits from federal agencies.
Bids for the Canal Road project were opened on June 28 with the winning bid coming in at about $7.4 million, Alabama Department of Transportation Assistant Region Engineer Brian Aaron said.
“Our apparent low bidder was John G. Walton Construction Company,” Aaron said. “It will go through [the] bid-review committee to make sure nothing’s out of whack. In about 20 to 30 days we’ll get a notice that yes, we are going to award that contract based off the bid. In all likelihood, we probably won’t see any activity until after Labor Day.”
With the completion date set as December 2020, Orange Beach officials are hoping that won’t include work during the busy season.
“The city has requested that they not work during the summer due to the impact it would have on our busy season traffic,” Community Development Director Kit Alexander said.
But Aaron said that’s going to be nearly impossible to avoid.
“We need to go ahead and get this done and we’ve worked closely with the city to try to minimize the summer impact,” Aaron said. “That was kind of the concession; they would give us one summer of impact, but we couldn’t afford two, so that led us to the completion date you see.”
The project will include some night work but not as a means of avoiding traffic impacts so much as out of necessity, Aaron said.
“When it gets summertime, they have to go to night-time closures. There will be a combination of day and night,” Aaron said. “In the wintertime, it’s not that big a deal to work in the daytime, but in the summer, there will be a combination of both.”
This part of the project will not include the complicated design for the Canal Road and State Route 161 intersection, but it will be bid out separately and won’t even start until the next year.
“That project is being funded through [the Restore Act],” Aaron said. “We are in the process of getting grant agreements in place so that design can begin.”
According to the city’s newsletter, the likely solution to the intersection will be a bypass that starts roughly in front of Big Mike’s Steakhouse on Canal Road and ends up at State Route 161 south of McDonald’s.
“The second phase is comprised of building a Canal Road-Highway 161 bypass within the Orange Avenue right of way,” the newsletter states. “The second phase is expected to begin in the fall of 2021.”
Mayor Tony Kennon said in July 2018 securing the permits to build in that right of way could take years because of nearby wetlands.
“There’s so much wetlands, it would delay us finishing by years,” Kennon said. “It could be as much as seven years to get that done.”
Aaron said the bypass route would also face scrutiny from the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) because of those wetlands.
“We’re basically going to have to start from scratch as regards to the NEPA process,” Aaron said.
Most of the preconstruction movement of utilities to make way for the fifth lane is complete, Aaron said, with some more movements included within the scope of the project.
“There are some utilities items in the contract that was bid [on June 28],” Aaron said. “There’s some sewer work that has to be moved, some drainage pipes under [State Route] 180, etc. But that work is fairly minimal in size, so we’re anticipating this to go pretty good.”
WOLF BAY BRIDGE
Another wildcard with an impact on the Canal Road-State Route 161 intersection is the much-anticipated Wolf Bay Bridge, or an extension of the state highway north over Wolf Bay to a landing on Sapling Point. But just the permitting is many months from completion.
“Construction of the Wolf Bay Bridge is anticipated to begin in 18 months to two years,” the city newsletter states. “Completion is expected to take four to five years. Currently, the project is in final roadway and bridge design as well as permit preparation for submittal to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the U.S. Coast Guard.”
Some progress on the project has been with studies conducted in the soil beneath the bay to help determine how deep bridge supports in the water will have to be and what designs may be required as a result of those studies.
GULF SHORES BRIDGE
Again, the hold up on the bridge the state is planning about a mile west of the Foley Beach Express and just east of Jack Edwards Airport in Gulf Shores is securing permits from the federal government.
“We are still waiting on our Corps of Engineer permits,” Aaron said. “We’ve currently scheduled an August letting. We’re trying to hold that and get with the Corps to get that permit. Once we get that permit from the Corps, we have to turn around and then get clearance through the Coast Guard. Typically that’s a 30-day process once we get the permit from the Corps. That August date is in flux. Every day we don’t get it from the Corps, it just further pushes that potential letting.”
In April, Aaron said the state had hoped to open bids on the bridge the same day as the Canal Road project was let.
The northern end of this roadway project, a spur road from the Foley Beach Express to the new bridge, is still in the land acquisition stage. A change in plans from a flyover bridge to a roundabout, one brought about by nearby residents’ concerns, required the state to acquire more land.
“We’ve got two tracts remaining that we are working on and going through that process,” Aaron said. “Once we wrap those up, we should be on track to settle those. We’re currently setting a November letting for that northern section.”
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