Mac McAleer likens the current traffic situation on Pleasure Island to the closing line of the famous Eagles song “Hotel California.”
“You can check out anytime you like, but you can never leave,” McAleer said.
He was one of more than 40 speakers at an Alabama Department of Transportation public hearing on an expedited and controversial road and bridge project planned for south Baldwin County. A standing-room only crowd greeted state and local officials at the Gulf Shores Activity Center on Nov. 15.
State Auditor Jim Zeigler wasn’t one of those speakers saying the allotted two minutes wasn’t enough time for his questions. He said he has been seeking information from ALDOT since April on the project and intended to ask for it again in writing at the meeting.
“I have more questions than answers about the proposed additional bridge,” Zeigler said. “I hope to solve that with my specific requests for public records. We need to make sure that this $30 to $87 million-dollar project is the best use of our limited funds.”
Some residents were downright giddy about the project, others expressed opposition and others emotionally talked about how their land was condemned to make way for the roadway. As proposed, a new road will branch off of the Foley Beach Express south of County Road 8 or what is now called Coastal Gateway Boulevard, and head south to a new bridge over Intracoastal Waterway just east of the Gulf Shores airport and only about two miles west of the existing toll bridge.
McAleer, developer of LuLu’s and Homeport Marina and a former Krispy Kreme donut magnate, said visitors’ battles with traffic could begin to take a toll on the vital tourism industry.
“What I know, as a group, we’re only as good as the worst experience our tourists have so we’ve got to make it the best we can,” McAleer said. “For many the worst part of that experience is when they load up that car on Saturday or Sunday and then they’ve got to go fight that traffic. It’s a horrible situation.”
Former Gulf Shores firefighter Tony Diliberto supports the project even though it will quite literally come right through his living room. He heads to court in March in his fight to get a fair price for his property just north of County Road 4.
“I’ve got a bullseye on my home,” Diliberto said. “I’m losing my home and I’ve lived in it for 40 something years and I’m still in favor of it. It’s not going to bring more traffic it’s just going to spread it out a little bit.”
Joe Emerson, founder of the End the Bridge2Nowhere page of Facebook, said the better solution and use of taxpayer dollars would be a north-south road through Gulf State Park.
“Our traffic problems in and around this area can be vastly improved by one build alone, a project that his been in the conception phase for over a decade,” Emerson said of a road through the park. “I recognize we desperately need a cross island corridor.”
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