Judge halts bridge project over transportation director’s 'personal vendetta'
A judge has blocked Alabama from building a new bridge across the Intracoastal Waterway to state beaches. The judge said Wednesday that the project was unneeded and motivated by the state transportation director's "personal vendetta" against a toll bridge company. According to the judge's preliminary injunction to halt construction, Transportation Director John Cooper "acted in bad faith for the purpose of putting a private company out of business." Department of Transportation spokesperson Tony Harris said the state will appeal. Cooper had testified during a court hearing that the project was needed to alleviate traffic congestion to state beaches.
Transportation Director John Cooper pushed for the new bridge without traffic studies and had only one discussion about it with the governor, Montgomery Circuit Judge Jimmy Pool wrote in a scathing preliminary injunction in which he derisively referred to the project as "Cooper's bridge."
"Director Cooper's outrageous conduct in embarking on spending more than $120 million of State funds, on a bridge that ALDOT does not need, for the purpose of putting a private company out of business shocks the conscience of the Court," Pool wrote.
Baldwin County Bridge Company, which operates the existing toll bridge to get to Gulf beaches, filed a lawsuit seeking to block the project. The company argued that Cooper acted in bad faith during negotiations on toll amounts and then pursued the new bridge project to financially damage the company.
Transportation Department spokesperson Tony Harris said the state will appeal to the Alabama Supreme Court.
"We are disappointed in the decision because it's clear that a new, free bridge is needed to help alleviate traffic congestion and offer a new evacuation option to residents and visitors to Alabama's Gulf Coast," Harris wrote in an emailed statement. "Years of negotiations with the private toll bridge company failed to deliver a solution. The public benefit of a new, free bridge should outweigh the interests of the private toll bridge company."