HUNTSVILLE, AL (WAFF) - It’s the roadwork that has everyone talking-the shutdown of Cecil Ashburn Drive.
The major South Huntsville corridor is completely closing Monday, January 7 for widening.
Thousands of drivers will be impacted by the project.
Crews will be out in full force as the road closes down completely. From Huntsville police, to the city’s traffic engineers, it will be a huge effort to keep traffic moving as drivers find other ways to get into the city.
“We ask folks to be patient. We know it’s going to be a little bit of a system shock that first week. But I think as everybody discovers what works best for them, it will start to settle down. Also, remember we’re really only looking at a year of construction delay,” said Dennis Madsen, the city’s Long Range Planner.
A nearly 3.5 mile stretch of Cecil Ashburn will go from 2 to 4 lanes. The full closure will last for about 10 months. At that time, two lanes are expected to reopen. The entire project will take about 18 months and should be finished by May 2020.
All lanes of Cecil Ashburn Drive, between Old Big Cove Road and Donegal Drive will be closed for construction until two lanes of traffic can be safely restored.
The city has suggested key alternate routes-Governor’s Drive, Rock Cut Road to U.S. Highway 72, and Hobbs Island Road to Memorial Parkway.
The city acknowledges that the project will be disruptive, but officials stress that it’s necessary in order for Cecil Ashburn to be able to handle more traffic and add safety improvements.
The Huntsville Police Department will be spreading out officers, to help with traffic flow and help with response times to other calls.
“One of the things we want people to do is pay attention to their following distance. You’re going to have more traffic on these alternate routes. So ensuring a good following distance can limit the fender benders,” said HPD spokesman Lt. Michael Johnson.
“If you live in Marshall County south of the Tennessee River, you can go up Alabama Highway 69 and cut across Union Grove Road or you can actually go all the way to Arab to 231 and come into Huntsville from that direction,” added Lt. Donny Shaw, public information officer for the Madison County Sheriff’s Office.
“Know that this is coming. Have patience when you’re backed up in this traffic, that is going to back up no matter which alternate route you select. Leave early if you can,” he added.
Rock Cut Road has a new light to help get drivers onto US Highway 72. An acceleration lane on 72 allows drivers to merge onto the highway. Striping and reflectors are also being added, according to traffic engineers.
Traffic lights on Governor’s will be set to run longer to keep traffic moving. So if you cross over in the Medical District, you will want to prepare for that.
“We’re going to increase the green time along the main line which is Governors Drive from 23-33% depending on the intersection and time of the day,” explained Nicholas Nene, the city’s traffic improvement projects manager.
Cecil Ashburn Drive is one of the city’s most heavily trafficked corridors.
It’s listed as a priority improvement project in Huntsville’s “Restore Our Roads” agreement with the Alabama Department of Transportation.
The contractor, Carcel & G Construction, will be incentivized to reopen two lanes of traffic within 10 months.
To keep the project on track or ahead of schedule, the contractor may earn up to $2 million in performance bonuses.
Conversely, the builder will be financially penalized up to $2 million for schedule delays. It is the same model the City and State used to fast-track overpass construction on South Memorial Parkway, another Restore Our Roads project.
“We changed the scope of the project to save time and money and to minimize the impact on our residents and businesses,” said Mayor Tommy Battle. “This schedule provides the least disruption and gets motorists safely back on the road before the 2019 holiday season.”
The base bid on the revised project came in at just under $18 million, nearly $7 million less than a previous round of bidding last May.
At that time, the City was working on a construction plan to keep one lane of traffic partially open during peak weekday hours. The plan proved to be a costly, 32-month ordeal that posed additional safety concerns. City engineers went back to the drawing board and believe the new schedule best addresses the needs and concerns of the community.
“We’re saving taxpayers millions of dollars and cutting two years of public pain in the construction process,” said Shane Davis, Director of Economic and Urban Development.
City departments have been working closely with community organizations and businesses to address needs and concerns related to increased traffic and speeders on alternate routes, ride-sharing options, moving wrecks, accident alerts, and public safety.
The road is overcapacity with 17,000 vehicles per day traveling through an essential corridor for the City of Huntsville, connecting commuters from East Huntsville, Marshall and Jackson Counties to Downtown Huntsville, Redstone Arsenal, Cummings Research Park and beyond, the city said.
Since the road opened in 2000, Cecil Ashburn has recorded 782 accidents and eleven fatalities in the past eleven years. New safety features are expected to address many of these concerns.
In addition to improvement work on Cecil Ashburn Drive, the 18-month project will also include work on Sutton Road between Taylor Road and Old Big Cove Road to accommodate five lanes.
Total project cost for the Cecil Ashburn Road Improvement Project is $17,946,909. The project was initially bid in May 2018 with the intention of keeping one lane of travel open during peak traffic times. But the criteria forced bids to come in well over budget, to nearly $25 million, and lengthened the construction timeline to nearly three years.
Key Alternate Routes
- Governors Drive via U.S. Hwy 431
- U.S. Hwy 72 via Eastern Bypass/Rock Cut Road
- Memorial Parkway (US 231) via Hobbs Island Road
City departments have worked on the following strategies to minimize disruption during the Cecil Ashburn Drive closure:
· Adjusted traffic signalization on Governors Drive to improve the efficiency of traffic light timing to reduce congestion
· Improved access to Rock Cut Road from the Eastern Bypass
· Adjusted resources for Huntsville Police, Fire & Rescue to ensure they meet increased demand
· Wreck clearance plan for alternate routes
· Anti-speeding enforcement for alternate routes
· Working with local businesses to offer flex-time options for employees
· Promoting money-saving commuter and ride sharing programs.
More information is available on the project BY CLICKING HERE.
Signs are up on Cecil Ashburn Drive alerting people that businesses are still open during construction.
“Just because the road is closing, business is still open in Jones Valley and Hampton Cove. We really want to encourage people in those neighborhoods to consider shopping local. Businesses are still going to be there and need your support,” said Harrison Diamond, Huntsville’s Business Relations Officer.
“When it’s over, traffic is going to be so much on that important corridor,” he added.
The Blevins Gap (3470 Cecil Ashburn Dr SE, Huntsville, AL 35802) trailhead will be closed due to road work on Cecil Ashburn, beginning January 7 and will remain closed until the middle of 2020.
However, there are additional access points:
- Smoke Rise – From Bailey Cove Road, take Willowbrook Drive to Smoke Rise Road SE and turn right. Proceed .3 miles to Valley Bend Drive SE on the left. The trail is at the end of Valley Bend Drive road stub.
- Sugar Tree Place – From Bailey Cove Road take Weatherly Road SE to Sugar Tree Trail SE and turn left. Immediately turn right onto Sugar Tree Place. At the end of the road is the trail entrance.
To access trails North of Cecil Ashburn:
- Fanning – 2275 Cecil Ashburn Dr SE, Huntsville, AL 35802 – Off Bailey Cove Rd. turn onto Cecil Ashburn Dr. and proceed .4 miles to the entrance of the Southeast Church of the Nazarene (2275 Cecil Ashburn Dr.) The trail entrance is located in the north east corner of the parking lot behind the church. NOTE: There is no trailhead parking available Wednesday evenings after 6pm or Sundays before noon.
- Walsingham – From Cecil Ashburn Drive, at the first traffic signal, turn left onto Donegal Drive SE. Proceed .4 miles to Walsingham Road SE and turn left. The trail entrance is located at the end of the road.
Hikers are asked not to block driveways in residential areas.
A spokesman for Huntsville City Schools, Keith Ward, says no buses use Cecil Ashburn Drive to pick up students but, about five or six buses use Governors Drive.
If your child drives or you take them to school, the school system is urging everyone to leave a little earlier in the morning.
“For those bus routes that use 431 to go from the Hampton Cove area over the mountain to Huntsville High, we’ll be monitoring those in real time and make adjustments as necessary maybe some tweaks or whatever on bus stops," Ward said.
There’s an interactive bus map that’s available on their website.
The project will also improve Sutton Road between Taylor Road and Old Big Cove Road to accommodate five lanes.
Huntsville Fire & Rescue, Huntsville police and HEMSI initiated their plan for the closure of Cecil Ashburn Drive.
“We’ll have extra enforcement in the area as far as speeding. We’re going to pushing out a program called Move Your Wreck Off The Road to try to make traffic flow smoother. If people are involved in a traffic accident where there are no injuries involved, we’re going to encourage them to move their vehicles off the roadway,” said Cpt. Juan Joyner, who oversees HPD’s Special Operations Division.
One of the things Huntsville fire will be utilizing is traffic preemption. It’s not a new concept but they will be installing it in more fire trucks, as will HEMSI, to get emergency vehicles to the hospital as quickly as possible.
“When we turn our emergency lights on in those events, it turns on the unit in the vehicle and it uses GPS and radio signals. It knows where that vehicle is and can figure out its direction of travel, how fast it’s going, and where the next intersection is, it sends a radio signal ahead to that intersection and turns the lights green to get the traffic out of the way,” explained Huntsville Fire & Rescue Chief Mac McFarlen.
On Monday, the City of Huntsville provided an update on the first day of the closure of Cecil Ashburn Drive.
- Commuters are getting adjusted to alternate routes, and while traffic on these routes have been more congested than normal, traffic continues to flow smoothly and no reports of major congestions, delays or accidents have been received at this time in areas impacted by the closure.
- City crews and HPD began monitoring traffic flow at 5 a.m. this morning and will continue to monitor traffic flow for the coming weeks to make adjustments and improvements as needed. We noticed this morning that many commuters are beginning their commute earlier than anticipated, so the City of Huntsville will adjust signal timings on Governors Drive to accommodate for an earlier start to assist further with an efficient traffic flow. We also noted that there was very little traffic increase on U.S. 72 and would encourage commuters to consider this route as a viable alternative.
- The City of Huntsville would also like to remind commuters to use the designated alternate routes and discourage the use of other local roadways. The alternate routes specified are U.S. 72, Governors Drive and Hobbs Island Road. These routes will be frequently monitored and adjustments can be made to help improve traffic flow.
- We recognize that commuters have adjusted their schedules and routes to prepare for the closure of Cecil Ashburn and greatly appreciate residents’ help to make this a smooth transition. Remember to obey traffic laws and be courteous as you make your way to your destination.
- Stay updated on the Cecil Ashburn Drive Improvement project by visiting HuntsvilleAL.gov/Cecil or following the hashtag #HsvRoads on Twitter.