Elevated lanes a possibility on Highway 280

Published 4:59 pm Monday, February 16, 2009

Commuters who battle the crowded lanes of Highway 280 every day could see some relief in the near future.

Officials at the Alabama Department of Transportation are conducting traffic studies to look at the feasibility of adding elevated tolled lanes over Highway 280 to serve as an alternative route for motorists.

Preconstruction engineer Lance Taylor said the toll lanes could be the traffic solution officials have been searching for.

“We’ve tried for several years to come up with a solution to the traffic problems on 280. For over 20 years, we’ve been looking for a solution for that,” he said. “Gov. Riley wanted us to find something the community could live with.”

The Progress 280 Task Force, which focuses on solutions to Birmingham’s traffic congestion problem, called Figg Engineering Group out of Tallahassee, Fla. to suggest ideas. The engineering firm ended up designing the elevated lanes, which would run from Eagle Point Parkway to Interstate 459.

Originally, the elevated lanes were intended to run from Eagle Point Parkway to the Red Mountain Expressway, but Jefferson County citizens were not receptive to the idea, Taylor said.

Shelby County citizens, however, were a different matter. Greater Shelby County Chamber President Jennifer Trammell said the Chamber supports the search for other options, including the elevated lanes.

“We’re very excited that our legislators are looking at other options, or any options for that matter, to help alleviate traffic on 280 and to help boost businesses that are already located there,” she said.

The lanes would be constructed in the Highway 280 median, with single columns supporting the overhead structure, which would be around 35 feet above the ground to give an open feel to the space under the lanes.

Taylor said the traffic study would let ALDOT officials decide whether to move ahead with the project.

“(We’re trying) to find out where people are starting out and where they’re going, trying to see what ways we can finance this thing and if people would really use it,” he said. “Is this something people are willing to do?”

While ALDOT supports the project, Taylor said he has no idea how quickly the project might happen.

“The study should be completed by summer. It’s a several-months process,” he said. “We’ll have that information, send that to our director and senior engineer, and at that point they’ll make the decision as to what options we need to consider and if it’s a feasible process.”

Taylor said he wasn’t sure exactly how the project would be funded, but private funding is a distinct possibility. He also said he doesn’t know what the cost would be to use the toll lanes.

Yet, people are eager to see the study’s results, he said.

“We’ve got some highly good feedback from a lot of people,” he said. “I think people are so anxious for a real solution, they’re looking for any kind of improvement.”