HUNTSVILLE, AL (WAFF) -Tuesday marked the second day of the Cecil Ashburn Drive closure as crews start work to widen the road.
Contractors are on site and tree removal has begun.
Meanwhile, public safety agencies are adapting to the changes that the project brings.
With Cecil Ashburn shut down for months of roadwork, first responders can’t use it while responding to calls, so authorities are working to ensure al they have resources in place on the Hampton Cove side of the mountain and out along the alternate routes drivers are taking during construction.
From Huntsville police, to Huntsville Fire & Rescue and HEMSI, a lot has been done behind the scenes to get ready for the closure of the corridor that connects Jones Valley and Hampton Cove.
It’s being widened from two to four lanes over the course of 18 months. Two lanes, one in each direction, are expected to open within 10 months while the rest of the work is completed.
Fire trucks and HEMSI have more traffic preemption systems installed to get them through traffic when they're on an emergency call.
“What we've done is put some ambulances over in Hampton Cove that have the traffic preemption system installed in them so that it can communicate with the traffic signals and we can ensure that we can get through those lights quickly and effectively whenever there's an emergency,” explained Dea Calce, HEMSI’s Chief Operations Officer.
Traffic preemption equipment communicates with the traffic signals whenever they have our lights and sirens activated. It gives emergency vehicles priority over other cars at the intersection. It sends a radio signal ahead to the next intersection and turns the light green.
“We're also rearranging the vehicles that are already in town that might need to come over here as another responding unit to ensure that they have traffic preemption installed in them so over half of our fleet has it already installed and we continue to add to that number,” Calce said.
HEMSI’s also changed their deployment model.
“To ensure that the unit that's stationed over in Hampton Cove, can stay over here as often as possible. Unless they're already running a call, we're going to have someone stationed over here 24/7,” Calce added.
The Huntsville Police Department is focused on response times to calls and traffic during the Cecil Ashburn Drive shutdown.
“We're going to do that by spreading out our traffic officers, as well as our shift officers. When it comes to traffic, we're also going to stage those officers to respond to calls for traffic accidents and make sure traffic flow is going as it should,” explained Lt. Michael Johnson, HPD’s public information officer.
There will be extra enforcement in impacted areas to cut down on speeding.
“Slow down. Speed is going to be a critical factor in limiting some of these crashes. During foggy and/or rainy days, your following distance is going to make the difference in us working a lot of traffic crashes,” Lt. Johnson added. “Traffic flow is critical to making this operation run smoothly during the construction. One of the things we want people to do is pay attention to your following distance.”
HPD has launched a program called “Move Your Wreck Off The Road” to help with traffic flow. If people are involved in a traffic accident with no injuries involved, they’re encouraged to move their vehicles off the roadway.
“If you can, pull off on the shoulder or go to the next closest parking lot and tell dispatchers where the individuals involved in the crash are located,” Johnson explained. “Once someone has a fender bender during rush hour and they sit in the road and take up one lane or both, it can have an effect on the rest of the rush hour.”
The City of Huntsville stressed that residents, under no circumstance, should trespass onto this closed road. To do so would put their safety at risk.
Blasting work is expected to begin next week, the week of January 14.
City crews noted increased congestion on Governors Drive the evening of January 7 and have adjusted afternoon traffic signalization to match the signalization in the morning peak commute times to aid in traffic flow.
Residents and commuters can turn official information resources such as HuntsvilleAL.gov/Cecil for correct and timely information regarding the Cecil Ashburn Drive Improvement Project.
“As the traffic flow adjusts the first week or two, everything can be adjusted to that. All of public safety, we adapt every day. When we have a big fire, we move trucks around. Police and HEMSI do the same thing. That part is nothing new to us. We'll adjust and keep everyone safe,” said Huntsville Fire & Rescue Chief Mac McFarlen.
“We're going to have Task Force 1 and 2 concentrating in areas where traffic is going to be increasing. Captain Brooks with South Precinct is going to be assigning extra officers to the Hampton Cove area to cut down on response times to calls,” added Cpt. Juan Joyner, who oversees HPD’s Special Operations Division.
There was an accident on Old Big Cove Road early Tuesday morning. A box truck overturned. Crews waited until about 9 am to tow it away so they wouldn’t impact morning traffic. There were no injuries.
City crews and HPD will continue to monitor traffic flow over the coming weeks to make adjustments and improvements as needed.
Lt. Donny Shaw, public information officer for the Madison County Sheriff’s Office, asked drivers to be patient as everyone gets used to the changes caused by the Cecil Ashburn project.
“Our patrol supervisors will make sure that we have some presence on Hobbs Island Road and the Eastern Bypass and Highway 72. As needed, we'll pull our deputies to 431 and the Hampton Cove and South Huntsville,” he said.
“The big picture is that this affects Jackson County, Marshall County, Morgan County. Anybody that works in Huntsville and has a commute has to have an understanding and they need to be aware of this project. You're going to have to leave earlier and you're going to have to have patience. Just be patient with everybody and we'll get through these 10 months and hopefully it will go back to somewhat normal,” Lt. Shaw added.