The Alabama Supreme Court ruled Friday that the state can continue work on a new bridge that will give motorists an alternate route to state beaches.
Justices reversed an injunction issued by a Montgomery judge that had halted work on the bridge across the Intracoastal Waterway. The injunction was issued after the operators of an existing toll bridge sued the state. Justices said the trial court did not have subject-matter jurisdiction over the bad-faith claim that served as the basis of the preliminary injunction.
The Alabama Department of Transportation said construction will resume in the coming weeks.
"This is an important victory for Alabama’s coastal residents and millions of visitors to our state. The need for a new, free bridge is obvious," Alabama Department of Transportation spokesman Tony Harris said.
He said the bridge will help relieve traffic congestion at the coast and provide an additional evacuation route during hurricane season.
Baldwin County Bridge Company, which operates an existing toll bridge to get to Gulf beaches, filed a lawsuit seeking to block construction of the new bridge that would be located just over 1 mile away from its existing toll bridge. The company argued that Transportation Director John Cooper acted in bad faith during negotiations to lower toll amounts and other operational changes, and then pursued the new bridge project to financially damage the company.
"Today’s decision sends an unfortunate message to businesses across this nation - come to Alabama on notice that anything an unelected government official chooses to do to you, he can do and you are powerless to stop him even if he is acting in bad faith," Neal Belitsky, president of Baldwin County Bridge Company, told al.com.
Montgomery Circuit Judge Jimmy Pool in May sided with the toll bridge company in issuing a preliminary injunction ordering a halt to construction of the project. Pool said trial evidence showed that Cooper pushed for the new bridge without traffic studies and had only one discussion about it with the governor.