Businesses, churches weigh in on widening of major south Huntsville road

Businesses, churches weigh in on widening of major south Huntsville road
(Source: WAFF)
(Source: WAFF)
(Source: WAFF)
(Source: WAFF)
(Source: WAFF)
(Source: WAFF)
(Source: WAFF)
(Source: WAFF)
(Source: WAFF)

HUNTSVILLE, AL (WAFF) - It's a road project that will impact thousands of people every day: the widening of a heavily-traveled stretch over Huntsville Mountain.

City leaders are examining the most efficient way to handle construction on Cecil Ashburn Drive.

The mountain road connects Jones Valley and Hampton Cove. It will soon go from two to four lanes.

It's the next project being launched through the city of Huntsville's "Restore Our Roads" program.

Opened in 2001 as a two-lane road with wide shoulders used by runners and cyclists, it will be expanded and still maintain 8-foot shoulders on both sides.

The project is needed because "as a two-lane road, it's already at capacity," said Kathy Martin, director of city engineering for the city of Huntsville.

It will cover 3.4 miles and include a major overhaul of the Old Big Cove Road intersection at the foot of the mountain on the east side.

The estimated cost is $15 million, which is being shared equally by the state and the city.

It includes a redesign for more adequate turn-around areas for emergency vehicles, which residents requested. Contractors will use controlled blasting  to carve away at the mountain.

According to the city, blasting will be minimized because initial construction done by the state in 1999 and 2000 provided enough width in most areas for four lanes.

"Restore Our Roads" is a $250 million cost-sharing program between the Alabama Department of Transportation and the city that has already brought major improvements elsewhere, including the South Parkway overpasses, Zierdt Road and the impending Northern Bypass.

According to Shane Davis, director of the city's urban and economic development, the option of closing the road is being looked at because construction bids for the widening project came in about $10 million over budget.

The alternative to closing the road, Davis added at the last City Council meeting, would be to keep one lane open and have traffic alternate usage of the lane under the supervision of construction workers. That would cause long traffic lines on both sides of Huntsville Mountain and lead to the project taking about 30 months to finish. It would also go over budget.

Closing the road and allowing the contractor to work without any traffic could lead to the project being completed in a year, he told the Council.

The average daily traffic on Cecil Ashburn Drive is 17,000 cars. Governors Drive over Monte Sano will assume a heavier load during construction and that roadway has an average daily traffic of 28,160 between Dug Hill Road and Monte Sano.

City Council members also pointed out that travelers will also use Green Mountain Road, a roadway to south Huntsville from Owens Cross Roads, and added that the road is not designed to handle a heavy traffic load.

Residents, commuters, businesses and churches say they will be impacted by the project. Many acknowledged the importance of big transportation projects, especially when it comes to planning for future growth, but those who live and work and use services in that part of town say it will be a tremendous challenge.

"People commute this way to work, shopping, eating, whatever. It's really going to affect our business because we already have so much traffic due to the work on the parkway so it will impact us in many ways," said Cindy Kelley, the manager at Carriage Cleaners.

The roadwork will complicate their operations. Carriage Cleaners has a location on Bailey Cove Road and in Hampton Cove.

"We do two deliveries a day. We  have a store over there and we pick up over there in the morning and then we drop off in the afternoon. To get the clothes over here and get them out within a couple of hours, it's really going to be hard to do," Kelley explained.

At In BeTween Boutique, the staff says it could make it more difficult for shoppers to get to them.

"I think it will hurt the boutiques here and all of the other businesses because a lot of people come in from Hampton Cove and that's our business and shutting it down would just make it harder for our customers to come see us," said Hailey King. "It's already a long ways away for people to drive places to their work to their school and just shutting it down is going to make it harder for everyone."

Church leaders have been working to gauge the impact of the project, crunching numbers and doing research. After examining some of the larger congregations, they found that at least 2000 families come over the mountain to attend services in southeast Huntsville. They worry that it could hurt attendance and hurt their finances with fewer offerings.

For some churchgoers, it will add at least 20 minutes to the travel time to go around on Governors, which some feel is a safer route than Green Mountain. Some churches fear that the added a longer commute will be seen as too much of a hassle by members and that if some families get in the habit of not coming to services for a year or more, they won't ever return to church again in the future.

"Some will find another church or won't go at all," one source said.

Churches asked the city for Cecil Ashburn to open on Sunday mornings to allow for church traffic.

Planners and engineers will soon give their recommendations to the city council on how to proceed and then the city will bid the project. A construction timeline has not yet been finalized.

"I'm sure it needs to be done but it's really going to affect everyone involved. That road is very needed," Kelley added.

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