INVESTOR PIKE:Foley Beach Express opens in coastal Alabama

August 3, 2000

INVESTOR PIKE:Foley Beach Express opens in coastal Alabama

Originally published in issue 50 of Tollroads Newsletter, which came out in Jul 2000.


Subjects:new toll road bridge

Facilities:Foley Beach EXPRESS FBX



Sources:McInnes Russell

The Foley Beach Express route is being signed and branded as an alternative to the choked main street of Foley, AL-59, until now the only north-south route leading directly off I-10 to Gulf Shores, Orange Beach and Gasque on the Gulf Coast. Foley is the major old town center in the area but it has been successful in attracting huge new ‘outlet’ shopping and entertainment centers geared to the tourist trade in its immediate vicinity. AL-59 being a 4 and 5-lane multi-purpose road with uncontrolled access has become heavily overloaded with the combination of traffic going through to the beaches and traffic wanting to do business in Foley. The new FBX route takes off eastward a couple of miles north of Foley, then heads due south parallel to AL-59 but about 8km (5mi) eastward. Later it is hoped to extend the project due north another 22km (13.5mi)to its own interchange with I-10 making for quicker connections to the east.

Time savings for many beach trips will range between 15 and 45mins using the FBX. It is also seen as a valuable addition to capacity for hurricane evacuation.

The project was developed by the Baldwin County Bridge Company (BCBC), a private LLC owned by a small group that includes sons of the former state governor Fob James and owners of the long-established bridge contractor McInnes Corp of Mobile AL. Principals are Tim James and John McInnes.

Though it is branded and was built as one project, the FBX forms three distinct parts proceeding southward:

(1) the Foley Bypass, 12km (7.5mi) $7.5m funded by the feds, free of tolls

(2) BCBC road, 8km (5mi), $6.5m, designed, funded and built by BCBC but on completion deeded to Baldwin county which will maintain and operate it free of tolls

(3) The Intra-Coastal Waterway bridge 2-lanes and toll plaza, 5-lanes, 1.5km (1mi) $11m, developed by BCBC and operated by it, tolled

Kicking equity

The group raised about $40m to cover development costs and capitalized interest including $36m from John Hancock insurance of Boston: $31m of 10.25% 28-year toll revenue bonds plus $5m secondary debt at a rate varying according to the project’s profitability – an “equity kicker” that could pay as much as 21% but bears most of the risk. Some of the land was donated by landowners keen on the road’s development potential but other stretches had to be bought. Development of the project took three years and construction was completed in 55 weeks, a couple of months ahead of schedule.

John McInnes, a managing partner told us: “We had extra good luck with the weather. It was very dry. Also, everyone worked well together, the city, the county, the state and our people. It went real well. It was just great to be able to get the bridge open and tolling for the peak of the holiday season.”

BCBC spent up on marketing, renting billboards, delivering flyers with maps to condos, hotels and travel agents, and with the help of the state DOT erecting signs to the FBX. The official opening by the state DOT director Mack Roberts attracted 600 people, and made a bit of a local media splash. Speeches were made at the toll plaza, then everyone walked up the bridge to its peak where a tent was erected, and people enjoyed refreshments with a panoramic view of the Gulf of Mexico and the nearby bays and beaches.

The bridge has been tolling 8k to 10k vehicles/day.

“It’s about on target, maybe even a bit above,” McInnes says. URSG’s Art Goldberg did the traffic and revenue forecasting. Traffic is expected to ramp up to about 11k to 12k AADT.

The cash toll is $2/car. For commuters there is a barcode sticker allowing 40 trips valid for 30 days for $40. An annual pass for unlimited travel is $450. The bridge issues magstripe charge cards for self-swipe or handing to a toll attendant to swipe. The outside non-reversible lanes are designated Express Cardlanes for exclusive use of the magstripe cards. McInnes says the magstripe cards involve a stop of about 2 to 3 secs vs 8 to 10 secs for cash payment. The toll system was designed and installed by United Toll Systems, Wetumpka AL, which has developed three toll bridges in the state and is selling complete toll systems to smaller toll operators.

McInnes says they are modifying the UTS reporting system to suit their particular needs

The toll plaza on the mainland or north side of the bridge has five toll lanes, the central three being reversible. Peak traffic flows are usually between 10am and noon, 11am being the most common check-out time at hotels. The first hour traffic is strongest northbound, people leaving the beaches area, and the second people arriving to check-in to hotels.

“But,” McInnes says, “we get surges of traffic at a time you can’t program for, such as if the weather clouds over and people decide to give up on the beaches and go into Foley to do shopping.”

Toll collection services are contracted to Florida Toll Services, the PB-MK venture that does toll collection in Orlando FL.

Goethals on the Gulf?

The 2-travel lane ICW bridge is an eleven span 610m (2,000') long of conventional design on concrete columns with a central steel plate girder span of 91m (300') with a shipping clearance under of 22m (73') and 76m (250') horizontally between fenders. The main steel girders are 3m (10') deep and were brought from Tampa FL where they were fabricated. Lesser spans have prefab prestressed concrete beams – Florida T-bulbs (FTB-78s) of 41m (135') length.

The bridge deck is cast in place concrete 12.7m (41.8') curb to curb presently striped for one travel lane each direction plus a breakdown shoulder each side. But if traffic required it there is plenty of space on the deck for a third travel lane. (Indeed if they were as embattled as the PANYNJ is by environuts hostile to widening, they could run four travel lanes over that deck because the FBX bridge has just about exactly the curb to curb width as the decrepid 4-lane Goethals Bridge linking the Staten Island Exwy NY and the NJ Turnpike. The Goethals carries an average 75k veh/day!) Bridge designers for the FBX were Volkert & Associates of Gulf Shores AL. (334 768 7551)

The BCBC approach roads were designed to provide both reasonably fast speed and also some controlled access to adjacent properties. The road, designed for 55mph, posted for 45mph, is 4-lanes divided by a continuous median, with special U-turn lanes to access properties on the other side. Property access is deed-restricted to one access/egress point per 400m (1/4mi) with entries and exits angled to allow merge/diverge movements at speed. There are six intersections, three of which are signalized.

The median is mostly 18m (60') but for one 4km (2.5mi) stretch where the group had to buy land they instituted a 91m (300') right of way and have a median of as much as 61m (200'), inside which they plan a variety of commercial uses such as food service and gas stations. The median establishments have ‘slip ramps’ leading in to them from the leftside of the roadway, integrated with the U-turn arrangements. These will form a third lane on the inside of the two travel lanes each direction for the length of the special-use central median. Engineer for the roads was David Rauch of Hutchinson Moore & Rauch, Daphne AL.

The city-owned Foley bypass is a more conventional 4-lane arterial road. Someone used some political clout in Washington DC however. The bypass was funded with a no-strings-attached FHWA grant of $7m to the city in which the normal NEPA enviro-permitting, Davis-Bacon US Labor Dept pay rates and racial/women (DBE) quotas were waived. The investors, not accepting fed-$s are not subject to some of these requirements anyway, a source of savings as compared to normal state projects.

Tim Russell, the mayor of Foley says the city got a “terrific deal” out of the whole project, and thinks it is a model for other cities. He says the city’s Foley Bypass was built for much less by folding it in with the investor’s design and construction contract. He says the new road system improves safety and amenity, opens up new areas for attractive development, and relieves the main street of traffic that “just wanted to get through, and which got in the way of people wanting to do business here.”

The whole project is being landscaped in a local subtropical theme with mature palms, crepe myrtles and the like. (Contacts John McInnes 334 967 4433, David Rauch 334 970 2422, Mayor of Foley, Tim Russell 334 943 8526)

NOTE NOR’EASTERNERS: crepe myrtles in this southern climate are flowering trees, not a species of perennial flowers killed off to ground level each winter.

Further Reading

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