County commission considers U.S. 280 presentations

During the June 28 County Commission work session, the commission, along with a packed audience, heard presentations from the Alabama Department of Transportation and Rethink 280, which represent opposite sides of the debate over possible elevated lanes on U.S. 280.

Temple Tutwiler of Rethink 280 said he’s convinced the ALDOT proposal, which would add four limited-access tolled express lanes over the existing six travel lanes from Eagle Point Parkway to Interstate 459, is not the right idea.

“Two years ago, when I started hearing a lot of noise about an $800 million elevated roadway from Red Mountain Expressway to Double Oak Mountain, I thought, ‘Surely this is not true,’” Tutwiler said. “Elevated structures in urban environments are enormously destructive.”

Tutwiler said he was disappointed there would only be two access points for the elevated lanes from Eagle Point Parkway to I-459. He emphasized members of the community feel small businesses will be cut off from possible customers.

Tutwiler briefly described Rethink 280’s plan, which involves four express lanes, which would be free from traffic lights and non-tolled, and two or more local lanes, which would be for normal traffic. The plan would cost $287 million-$459 million.

Brian Davis, an engineer with ALDOT, emphasized how important tolled lanes are for ALDOT to be able to make any plan work. ALDOT’s typical yearly budget for the entire state is $705 million. The elevated lanes project alone is expected to cost between $700 million-$800 million.

“This is going to be a tolled facility or there isn’t going to be any facility,” Davis said. “If you think the Birmingham area alone is getting $200 million-$400 million, you’re kidding yourself. There are needs all over the state.”

Davis said the elevated lanes plan would take 25-30 percent of traffic away from the ground lanes, cutting down on congestion.

He also said ALDOT considers the elevated lanes to be less intrusive, especially since traffic will be able to continue on U.S. 280 as the lanes are being built — something not true of Rethink 280’s plan.

“It’s going to be almost an impossible task to maintain 280 at an acceptable level,” he said. “What are you going to do with all that traffic for two and a half years?”

During the meeting after the work session, the County Commission adopted a resolution supporting ALDOT in efforts to come up with a solution for the U.S. 280 congestion using toll roads.

Commissioner Rick Shepherd said the resolution doesn’t mean the commission supports the elevated lanes plan — it simply means the commission is looking to continue dialogue with ALDOT.