Monday, June 18, 2007

Meanwhile, in Alabama..."This [boycott] has been a major public relations nightmare."

Boycott taking toll


By Kenneth Mullinax
The Montgomery Advertiser
Copyright 2007

Three months into the boycott of the Emerald Mountain Expressway, protesters continue to take a toll on its bottom line.

Debbie Hough, spokeswoman for the residents boycotting the toll bridge over a rate increase, said they performed a random traffic count on Thursday and Friday.

Their spot-check reportedly showed vehicle usage is almost 50 percent down from what it was before the boycott began March 1.

"Our car-use checks performed by volunteers reported a traffic count of 498 cars on Thursday and 502 cars on Friday, which roughly translates to a 47 percent decrease from the bridge's usage rate before the boycott began," Hough said by phone.

Numbers used as a baseline to rate the protest's success showed that before the boycott began, an average of 1,006 cars used the toll road during morning hours.

The organized boycott began after the owners of the Emerald Mountain toll bridge, Alinda Capital, raised the fare for non-commercial vehicles from $1 per crossing to $1.50 and the rate for commercial vehicles from $2 to a minimum of $3.

Alinda also increased tolls on its bridge on the Alabama River Parkway.

Repeated messages left for Alinda's CEO, Gordon Jarvis, on both Thursday and Friday, went unanswered.

Jarvis told the Advertiser in late March that the boycott "has had a significant impact on the traffic across the toll bridge" and "this (boycott) has been a major public relations nightmare."

Hough is pleased that Elmore County residents are continuing to find alternate routes rather than using the bridge.

"We are gratified that so many motorists from Elmore County are refusing to use the bridge (owned by the company) that refuses to sit down and hear our concerns."

She said a group of concerned citizens would be conducting traffic counts next week to further gauge the progress of the boycott.

"We are happy that we have continued to cut into the revenues of the toll bridge owners and we will continue to do so until Alinda agrees to sit down with us and talk about discounts for residents who live near the bridge," Hough said.

She said protesters would consider halting the boycott if Alinda would grant 40 percent discounts to residents who live near the toll bridge.

The New York-based infrastructure company holds a monopoly on toll facilities in Alabama, owning all four toll bridges and roads in the state.

State Rep. Barry Mask, R-Wetumpka, an outspoken opponent of Alinda's toll increase, said the company is interested in turning the proposed I-85 extension and the Montgomery outer-loop project linking I-85 and I-65 into toll roads.

"I will attend each and every meeting for these new projects in our area so I can tell the world what a bad neighbor Alinda has been to the residents of Elmore County," Mask said Friday.

Alinda recently added former director of the Alabama Department of Transportation, Mack Roberts, to its payroll to help the company identify similar infrastructure projects across the nation, Roberts confirmed by phone.

© 2007 The Montgomery Advertiser:

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