Thursday, May 17, 2007

Orange Beach Highway Plan Draws Complaints

Officials, residents discuss proposal to extend Beach Express
Thursday, May 17, 2007
Published by Mobile Press Register
By GUY BUSBY Staff Reporter

ROSINTON -- A proposed new highway and interchange met with opposition from some central Baldwin residents who told officials the road will destroy homes and farms and bring congestion to rural areas.
Officials with the Alabama Department of Transportation met Tuesday night with area residents for a public meeting to discuss state plans to build a new exit on Interstate 10 and a road to link the interchange with the extended Foley Beach Express.
The road is intended to relieve traffic stress on Alabama 59 between Loxley and Foley as well as provide a new evacuation route when hurricanes threaten the Baldwin coast, said Jackie Glasgow, a highway department spokesman.

Some residents, however, said the new road will cut into farmland that has been in families for generations and disrupt the rural nature of the area.
"They're taking every structure on my land, my home, my arena, my barn," said Theresa Brown, whose nine acres will be split by the corridor. "This is all I've wanted my whole life. It took us two years to find it and it will take no time at all to destroy it."
She said she and her husband, Paul Brown, were told that they would be paid for the land condemned as right of way, but the road would divide their property, leaving them inadequate space for their five horses.
"They told us the value of the remaining property would be enhanced by the road, but that's not going to do us any good," she said.
During the two-hour session, participants came and went after looking over maps and talking to highway officials. About 50 residents were in the Rosinton Elementary School auditorium during most of the meeting.
A.B. "Sonny" Hankins, a Rosinton resident and former Baldwin County commissioner, said extending the Beach Express up the current route of Baldwin County 83 to where it will link with the state corridor is a poor choice of locations.
"When I was on the County Commission, we did everything we could to enhance Baldwin County and provide it with the best opportunity for growth and I believe the commissioners who have come along since then have done the same thing for the most part, but Baldwin County deserves better than this," he said. "They're going to take 83, which was built 55 years ago as a farm-to-market-road and pack a four-lane highway onto it. If they're going to spend $50 million, they could do better than this."
Hankins said a better alternative would be to take a road to the east -- Baldwin County 87 -- and widen that route. That plan would provide north-south access in two different areas of the county, rather than have Alabama 59 and the Beach Express within a few miles of each other.
He said using 87 would also allow access to Interstate 10 at an existing interchange at Wilcox and a route north to I-65 along Baldwin County 112, which hurricane evacuees could use.
"With this, all they're doing is shuttling them up to I-10," he said. "They'll still have to come to 59 to get to I-65 and you'll have the bottleneck all over."
Michael Collins of Lillian also said a road farther to the east would serve residents in that area. He said that with the route up highway 83, residents in Orange Beach and the east side of Baldwin would still have to use roads such as U.S. 29 before a hurricane, when that road would also be jammed with evacuees from Pensacola.
Glasgow said state transportation officials looked at all possible routes before deciding on the current plan. He said a more eastern corridor would require more homes to be removed and be more expensive. Glasgow said other routes would also have more of an impact on wetlands.
He said a route through Wilcox would be much more expensive than the proposed road.
"We would have four bridges to build instead of two," he said. "We understand that nobody likes to be moved out of their homes and we'd rather not ever have to do that, but if you look at all the alternatives, this is the best one."
He said the current plan will require the removal of three homes, which is the lowest number of any possible route.
Current plans call for the state to build the interchange and corridor south to link with the extension of the Beach Express being built by Baldwin County.
The projected cost of the interchange and corridor is about $10 million, according to reports. The 13-mile Beach Express extension from Foley to Rosinton is estimated at $50 million.
Officials said work on the state project could begin within a year if the proposal is approved and that the first phase of the county extension, from Foley to Baldwin County 32 in Summerdale, could start within four months.


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