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Alabama’s ‘bridge to nowhere’ makes national headlines

In a long-form post Tuesday from The Daily Beast, the intracoastal bridge project in Baldwin County took center stage alongside key Alabama political players grappling over the state’s infrastructure priorities.

While particularly scrupulous of Alabama Department of Transportation (ALDOT) Chief John Cooper’s part, the report offered a look into the current state of play around a situation that isn’t expected to be resolved anytime soon. 

Last month, we reported the Alabama Supreme Court authorized construction to continue on the bridge after a Montgomery Circuit Judge imposed a halt on the project in May. 

RELATED: State Supreme Court greenlights Baldwin County bridge construction

“In 2020, Alabama’s Department of Transportation appropriated $1.6 billion—a mix of state, federal, and local funds—so the cost of the bridge would hardly be a drop in the bucket for Alabama, even when legal and construction issues inevitably drive up the cost,” writes Sam Brodey, Daily Beast deputy politics editor.  “If the director of the Alabama Department of Transportation, John Cooper, has his way, there will one day be a monument to that black hole: a $120 million bridge across the Intracoastal Waterway that everyone from local activists to a federal judge has dubbed a ‘boondoggle’ to ‘nowhere.’ 

“Even by his standards, Cooper’s stubborn push to build an expensive new bridge to the Gulf Coast has confounded his sympathizers and created a legion of enemies who are determined to kill the project or pressure Ivey to give him the boot—whichever comes first.” 

RELATED: Judge halts bridge project, accuses ALDOT chief of bad faith

On top of high costs, the bridge’s design and location have been criticized for lacking the potential to improve or alleviate existing traffic concerns. 

The article offered a spotlight to officials who have been sounding the alarm on mismanaged infrastructure priorities. 

“The state’s lieutenant governor, Will Ainsworth, has gone a step further: On Aug. 12, he said if he were in charge, Cooper would be ‘fired on day one.’ He cited a number of disappointments, including his handling of the Intracoastal Waterway bridge,” Daily Beast reported.

“For opponents of the project, it’s hard to decide what aspect of the years-long process most infuriates them.”

RELATED: Ainsworth calls for ‘new leadership’ at ALDOT

The news outlet also interviewed State Sen. Chris Elliott (R-Josephine).

“My frustration as a local who represents these folks is we don’t have a solution still,” Elliott said. “There doesn’t seem to be a solution on the horizon.” 

The Daily Beast seemed baffled by the state’s response to their questions.

“ALDOT spokesman Tony Harris accused the toll company of charging drivers ‘tens of millions of dollars while not eliminating traffic jams’ and called the price hike ‘consistent with that practice.’ Citing a public hearing from five years ago, a recent online poll from a local paper, and ‘recent news coverage,’ Harris contended ‘there is overwhelming support for ALDOT’s project.’”

“He did not respond to a question about the last time Cooper spoke with Ivey about the project. And Ivey’s office did not respond to a request for comment,” Daily Beast reported.

RELATED: ALDOT Director Cooper arrested for harassment

The central mystery of their story revolved around Cooper, who is said to have brought his career-long reputation to bear on the Baldwin County bridge. 

“Across Alabama, Cooper has long been notorious for his muscular wielding of power and his legendary holding of grudges. A popular quip — ‘it’s Mr. Cooper’s way or no highway’ — is usually delivered by insiders with a laugh, groan, or both,” Daily Beast wrote. 

Exacerbated by personal legal and criminal troubles, Cooper’s no-nonsense attitude, viewed in the past as a strength, according to former colleagues, is now a political and operational weakness.

Grayson Everett is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @Grayson270

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