High rise: Elevated 280 plan unveiled

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, August 29, 2006

U.S. Highway 280 commuters and local residents got their first looked at a proposed elevated roadway aimed at decreasing congestion and driving time on one of Alabama&8217;s busiest roads.

Project Horizon 280 Task Force, a group of government officials, business owners and local residents hired Figg Engineering Group to develop the proposal – which was presented to the public during four meetings yesterday and Monday at the Birmingham Marriott hotel.

&8220;We&8217;re looking at a proposed elevated roadway as a possible solution to U.S. 280 congestion,&8221; Horizon 280 member Randy Cole said.

The plan calls for a 35-foot, four-lane elevated roadway that would stretch from Highway 31 in Birmingham to Eagle Point Drive in Shelby County. The roadway plans, which are divided into east and west portions separated by Interstate 459, call for a total of three interchanges providing access points. One of those interchanges would connect to I-459, with an additional interchange built somewhere in each of the east and west divisions.

&8220;Our vision is to improve the flow of traffic and decrease congestion at the grade level, or existing level of U.S. 280,&8221; Figg Engineering Group President and CEO Linda Figg said. &8220;When you have a flowing route that does not involve stop and go traffic and street signals, you can cut driving time almost in half.&8221;

One of the many positives of the new roadway, designers say, would be the construction time and small amount of delays to commuters during the building process.

Figg told the 400-plus attendees at the four meetings all of the construction would take place within the center median along U.S. 280, with limited lane closures that would only occur at night.

The elevated road concept has paid off for a number of cities across the U.S., Figg said, including Tampa and San Antonio.

Traffic along the ground level U.S. 280 would not be effected by the elevated roadway, Figg said, which would be designed for commuters not planning to make a large amount of stops along the 280 corridor.

&8220;This would allow you to move along the current U.S. 280 roadway the way you were supposed to initially,&8221; she said.

Cost for the project cannot be estimated, Figg said, until a final determination of all the projects details could be hammered out.

A pleasant sight for sore eyes

Figg said the roadway would be aesthetically pleasing and provide for plenty of natural light and open air to the regular U.S. 280 below.

The design firm regularly conducts discussion groups, or &8220;charettes&8221;, with the public to hear their ideas for the design of the roadway.

Figg said her company offers a wide array of designs that would help the large structure fit in with the surrounding area.

&8220;We&8217;ll present multiple ideas with multiple choices of various components of the project,&8221; she said.

The spans between support columns of the roadway would stretch as much as 150, Figg said, to provide as much open air as possible.

Lighting and landscaping could also provide for a more pleasant appearance.

Environment friendly design

Another pertinent aspect to the design of the roadway would be the impact on the surrounding environment, Figg said.

The roadway avoid all contact with the Cahaba River, Figg said, spanning across the waterway without any supports needing to be placed in the water. In addition, the road would contain its own drainage system that would filter roadway from the surface down to the ground and away from the U.S. 280 thoroughfare.

&8220;This roadway would I no way affect the Cahaba River or any other natural area along U.S. 280,&8221; Figg said.

Timeline for talking

There are three proposed phases to the elevated roadway plan.

Figg said the initial phase involves her company discussing options for the roadway with the community. With their approval and support, Figg would then present the final proposal to the Horizon 280 committee.

Alabama Department of Transportation third engineer Brian Davis said while ALDOT is very interested in the project, its involvement will only begin once the public has approved the plan and funding solutions for the project have been hammered out.

&8220;If they can sell it to the public than they will hand it over to us,&8221; Davis said. All we are doing right now is watching and listening.&8221;

Figg said it would likely be the middle of November before a final concept is brought before the community.