Cecil Ashburn Drive to close Jan. 7 for widening

Road will close for 10 months for construction

Cecil Ashburn Drive to close Jan. 7 for widening

HUNTSVILLE, AL (WAFF) - If you use Cecil Ashburn Drive in South Huntsville-get ready for the big shutdown for roadwork.

Construction will get underway in a month. Crews will take the portion that connects Hampton Cove to Jones Valley from two to four lanes to accommodate increased traffic and incorporate safety improvements.

Work on the 3.4 mile stretch- one of the city’s most heavily trafficked corridors- will start January 7th.

[READ MORE: Ridesharing efforts underway as Cecil Ashburn shutdown approaches]

The road is overcapacity with 17,000 vehicles per day, city leaders stressed during a press conference Thursday morning.

The project will take 18 months. Contractors will reopen two lanes of traffic within 10 months of the start date. The project is expected to be fully complete by May 2020.

The project will also improve Sutton Road between Taylor Road and Old Big Cove Road to accommodate five lanes. To complete this project safely and quickly, 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.

“After 10 months, we’re going to have a much safer road there. It will have more capacity. It will be able to carry more traffic and it will alleviate some of the traffic problems we have on Governors Drive right now,” Mayor Tommy Battle said.

“The City of Huntsville’s goal is to finish these improvements as quickly as possible in hopes to restore travel on a safer, quicker and higher capacity route that connects East Huntsville’s Big Cove/Hampton Cove to Downtown Huntsville, Redstone Arsenal, Cummings Research Park and beyond,” the city said in a press release.

Since the road opened in 2000, Cecil Ashburn has recorded 782 accidents and eleven fatalities in the past eleven years.

“That is unacceptable to us. Huntsville can do better than that. The latest fatality happened a few months ago. So we want to make sure we are providing the safest routes possible,” said Shane Davis, Urban and Economic Development director.

“We’re essentially constructing a five lane road, creating a four foot raised concrete median in the center to minimize crossover traffic. We’re also installing a high friction asphalt wearing layer. This is will minimize any hydroplaning or any water standing on the road,” added city engineering director Kathy Martin.

A portion of the mountainside will be removed to widen the road. New technology will be used.

“We are using an innovative method. The contractor will be required to predrill and presplit the rock allowing much smaller, closer, less explosives to be used. This will minimize disturbance and also it will create a more stable rock face once blasting is complete,” Martin said during the press conference.

The city made the decision to completely shutdown the roadway to reduce the timeline and cost of construction.

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.

Alternate Routes

The following major corridors connect Big Cove/Hampton Cove to destinations to the west and can be used as alternate routes during this time:

  • US 431/Governor’s Drive via Governor’s Drive
  • US Highway 72 via Eastern Bypass/Rock Cut Road 
  • South Memorial Parkway/US 231 via Hobbs Island Road

City Preparation

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 at HuntsvilleAL.gov/Cecil. For updates on additional roadwork projects within the City including road closures, visit HuntsvilleAL.gov/RoadworkUpdates.

GrowCove, a civic organization that provides a unified point of contact for Hampton Cove residents, has been working with the City of Huntsville, Town of Gurley, Madison County, and Alabama DOT to try to coordinate various aspects of the project and mitigate potential issues within the Cove as well as alternate routes.

One such effort is their upcoming Ridesharing Options Open House to be held at Rivertree Church (652 Taylor Rd) on Monday, December 10th, 2018 from 5:30-7:30 pm. At the event, representatives from the City of Huntsville, Enterprise Vanpool, and Huntsville City Schools will be present to talk to residents about these ridesharing options, and have on-the-spot signups that can translate to successful vanpools and additional after school buses if there is sufficient interest.

The City will be seeking city council approval to award the construction contract to the low bidder, Carcel & G Construction.

Contractors plan to work 12 hour days, seven days a week and the contractor will be given incentives to reopen two lanes of traffic within 10 months. The remaining work is expected to be complete six to eight months later with all lanes open by May 2020.

Huntsville Fire & Rescue, Huntsville police and HEMSI have been carefully planning for the upcoming 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.

“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.

HPD will be concentrating in the areas where traffic will be increasing. South Precinct is going to be assigning extra officers in Hampton Cove to cut down on response times to calls.

“We will change things as needed to provide the services for the citizens that they expect,” Cpt. Joyner said.

“We adjust every day. When we have big fires, we move big trucks around. Police do the same thing when they have to shift things, same with HEMSI. That part is nothing new to us. We will keep everyone safe,” Chief McFarlen added.

Safety improvements make up almost half of the $18 million cost of the project.

“We’re increasing sight distance around curves and widening in those area so that you can see both sides of the curves, also skid resistant pavement, additional guardrails,” Davis said. “Safety was a huge focus for us, in additional to creating more capacity.”

Along with the raised concrete median in the center to prevent cross over traffic, a a safe turnaround will be added for the public and first responders at the top of the mountain in the Land Trust parking lot, which will be expanded.

The project also includes a significant amount of drainage improvements.

“As a result, we’re now controlling the runoff that leaves the mountain. We’re installing concrete ditches on the top as well as the bottom face of the rock. We’re controlling that by holding it back in a detention pond and slowly releasing it so that it doesn’t just discharge across the road and down to the adjacent property owners that we knew had concerns as well,” Martin explained.

Safety improvements for Cecil Ashburn Drive

Eight-foot paved shoulders will accommodate cyclists. Sidewalks will be installed along Sutton Road on both sides between Old Big Cove and Taylor Road to help with pedestrian access for future retail development in that area.

“A lot of questions we’ve also had expressed to us pertain to the Old Big Cove and Sutton Road intersection. We’re making significant improvements there, adding deceleration lanes and double left turn lanes to minimize that stacking movement and improve the overall function of that intersection,” Martin added.

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