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Byrne: Let’s talk about tolls — Why we should support Local Amendment 2

Baldwin County voters will soon head to the polls to cast their vote for president, Congress, some statewide offices and a few proposed amendments. As your congressman and a Baldwin County resident, there is one local amendment I encourage my fellow Baldwin County voters to support: Local Amendment 2.

On the backside of this year’s ballot, Baldwin County’s Local Amendment 2 proposes the extension of the existing Baldwin Beach Express (The Baldwin Beach Express II) that would construct a new stretch of road to extend the Beach Express from Interstate 10 all the way up to Interstate 65, an infrastructure project I have long supported. This amendment is not asking for additional state or local funding, nor is it asking taxpayers to foot the bill for this much needed roadway. The legislation also states multiple times that the toll will only be established on this new road extension and cannot toll any existing roads.

If passed, Local Amendment 2 would establish a toll authority to oversee the construction and maintenance of the Baldwin Beach Express II. Coastal Alabama is no stranger to tolls. During last year’s Mobile Bay Bridge debate, I worked hard to ensure my constituents would not have to pay excessive tolls that would create a financial burden impacting many of their daily lives. After a tumultuous debate, the proposal was ultimately scrapped.

The proposal that Baldwin County is being asked to vote on next month, however, is completely different. After listening to my constituents, carefully reviewing project details, and having numerous conversations with other elected officials, community leaders, strong conservatives and local business owners, I am confident this amendment has Baldwin County’s best interest in mind.

First, Local Amendment 2 would place a toll on a new roadway, while leaving existing roads untolled. If drivers do not wish to take the toll route, there are multiple existing toll-free alternatives. Last year’s Mobile Bay Bridge proposal did not offer a feasible toll-free alternative, which I believe is a fundamental difference with the Baldwin Beach Express II.

Second, preliminary research and traffic patterns show us the primary users of this new road will be tourists visiting our beaches. Unlike the Mobile Bay Bridge, this will not have a considerable impact on daily commuters, but instead mostly be used and paid for by visitors. Baldwin County residents may still take the many existing, toll-free roads they use daily – just as they’ve been doing for years.

Third, the proposed Baldwin Beach Express II will be funded entirely by the toll. One hundred percent of the toll fee will go toward the construction and upkeep of this roadway, leaving taxpayer dollars untouched. I have been and remain generally skeptical of tolls, but the only way to make this project happen and to alleviate our serious traffic congestion issues is through a toll. Baldwin County and the state of Alabama simply do not have the funding or resources to make this project happen otherwise.

Lastly, Local Amendment 2 will improve our public safety for the future. Coming on the heels of Hurricane Sally and Hurricane Delta, we know the importance of getting to safety quickly when a hurricane threatens to hit Alabama’s Gulf Coast. This new roadway will provide an additional northbound evacuation route to move traffic flow efficiently during evacuations. Importantly, the toll fee would be lifted in the event of a countywide emergency.

The preliminary planning and preparation for this project has been completed – all that’s left to do is build the road. Now it’s up to Baldwin County voters to choose the best decision for our county.

In my time representing Baldwin County at both the state and federal level, I have always promised to look out for my fellow neighbors, and that is exactly what I am doing by supporting Amendment 2. This project has the potential to greatly improve the quality of life for Baldwin County residents in a fiscally responsible way that does not cost Baldwin County taxpayers. I firmly believe the Baldwin Beach Express II is crucial for our county’s future, the safety of our families and loved ones, and our growing infrastructure and economy.

I ask that you join me in flipping over your ballot and voting YES on Local Amendment 2.

U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne is a Republican from Fairhope.