Grassroots group, Rethink 280, vows to stop elevated toll road

A group of North Shelby residents and business leaders, who say a proposed elevated toll road for U.S. 280 would decimate the quality of life in the area, have joined forces with two other groups — one from Mountain Brook and one from Homewood — to stop it.

Terry Smith, owner of Edgar’s Bakery, hosted Wednesday night’s meeting at his restaurant at Colonnade. The small group of about 15 North Shelby residents met with representatives of Citizens to Save 280 and Businesses for a Viable 280 to discuss what now will be their joint effort under a new name — Rethink 280. The group’s Web site is Rethink280.org.

A second meeting is planned for 6:30 p.m. Thursday evening at another Edgar’s location, Cadence Place off Cahaba Valley Road near U.S. 280.

“We’re trying to raise awareness,” said Chuck Jett, CEO of Principle Pharmacy Group. “People really don’t believe this is going to happen.”

What most don’t realize, he said, is “ALDOT (Alabama Department of Transportation) is like a runaway train. This is a plan that is going to kill retail businesses and development on 280.“

Smith said the elevated roadway, which will have only two entrance and exit points from Eagle Point to I-459, will “damage home values in places all along 280 in areas like Inverness and Greystone.”

The group claims the ALDOT proposal is “essentially a 1960s solution to solve issues that will stretch to 2030.”

“Cities across the country and world are tearing these elevated roadways down, not building them,” said Temple Tutwiler of Mountain Brook.

He said ALDOT officials have said publicly their primary concern is not for residents or businesses along the path of the elevated by-pass.

“He (an ALDOT representative) told me directly that residents and businesses along 280 are not their primary concern, that they are just as concerned about South Georgia to Memphis drivers who may travel on the roadway as they are someone who lives here.”

Smith and Jett said the city of Hoover would suffer the most property value damage and economic dislocation if the elevated roadway becomes a reality. They said they have met with several Hoover city officials, including Hoover Mayor Tony Petelos, who they said, “don’t want it either, but they are waiting for residents to stand up and tell them they don’t want it.”

Jett said the group plans to go before the Hoover City Council within the next three weeks to discuss alternative plans to ease traffic woes on 280 and to urge the council to take a stand opposing the elevated roadway.

The Rethink 280 group said it is working with a nationally-recognized traffic planner and is preparing an alternate plan which includes the construction of express lanes and business districts to speed through traffic that would cost about $300 million, as opposed to the $800 million estimated cost of an elevated toll road.

The Rethink 280 group also said its plan preserves the future option of multiple forms of mass transit.

Tutwiler said the elevated roadway would be a 10-lane super highway and called it, “a massive intrusion coming through the neighborhood.”

He said ALDOT and state officials think they have a funding source for the project and are moving quickly ahead with it. However, he said ALDOT officials have yet to perform any kind of environmental impact study or other economic impact studies necessary.

Jett likened the U.S. 280 traffic issues to the national health care reform debate.

“Everyone thinks we need to do something, but when they hear about this plan, their response is just not that,” he said.

Katie Tipton of the Homewood group said residents should be made aware of several factors involved with the elevated toll road proposal.

“What they need to know is this is an $800 million proposal that will have entry points at only I-459, Valleydale Road and Eagle Point. They also need to know that it is planned so it can be expanded to six lanes,” she said. “This is a monstrous expenditure that will radically change what everyone loves about this area.”

Jett said Shelby County officials are “all for” the elevated roadway because “of all the hotels and development” that would move to the Chelsea area.

Tutwiler said what would be left along the North Shelby portion of U.S. 280 would be “light industrial and empty big boxes.”