Public transportation being considered for U.S. 280 corridor

By AMY JONES / Associate Editor

HOOVER – While the Alabama Department of Transportation works on an elevated lanes plan to relieve traffic congestion on U.S. 280 from Interstate 459 to Eagle Point Parkway, the Regional Planning Commission of Greater Birmingham is looking to bring alternate transportation into the public eye.

At a public workshop Nov. 12, officials from Reynolds, Smith and Hills, the primary consulting firm for the planning commission’s study of U.S. 280, said opinions from the public are essential to putting together a plan for public transportation.

Project manager Jamie Cochran said the planning commission is working with ALDOT on ideas.

“We’re coordinating our study of public transit very closely with (ALDOT),” she said. “We coordinate the ideas ALDOT has with the ideas the public has and that we come up with to get the best mix.”

The commission is considering several different types of public transportation, including different kinds of bus services and light rail transit.

Cochran said the U.S. 280 corridor, which stretches from the Interstates 20 and 59 interchange to the Shelby/Talladega county line is about 35 miles long. That distance, along with the different environments along the route, means the planning commission must consider all forms of transportation, Cochran said.

“We have a lot of different information sources. We’re pulling that all together to make sure we get the full picture of what’s going on,” she said.

The planning commission must also plan for future growth, especially east of the I-459 interchange on U.S. 280. Cochran said that’s evidenced by the significant growth in the Chelsea area, where traffic jumped 27 percent between 2000-2008.

“The corridor as a whole is expected to grow over the next 10, 15, 20, 30 years,” Cochran said. “We’ve got a very auto-dependent corridor right now. There are very few bicycle, pedestrian and transit options.”

Harpersville Mayor Theoangelo Perkins, who attended the Nov. 12 workshop, said he’s excited to see plans being made to relieve traffic congestion on U.S. 280.

“We have a lot of people screaming for something to be done about 280,” he said. “I’m up here to make sure my constituents are part of the process.”

Perkins said he thinks public transportation could work in Harpersville – if it’s the right kind.

“I think some form of it would work in our area,” he said.

Wayne Echols of The Partnership of the Greater Shelby County Chamber of Commerce said he’s interested to see if the elevated lanes plan can include public transportation. He said The Partnership, along with the Greater Shelby Chamber of Commerce, are greatly interested in solutions to U.S. 280 congestion.

Echols said although growth has been slowed by the economy, it may start picking up soon and Shelby County must be ready.

“With the economic slowdown, it’s given the county room to breathe, but you come back ready to go,” he said.

After the planning commission finishes gathering information from local municipalities and the public, the next step is to draw up a draft plan and hold a public workshop in spring 2011. After that, the commission hopes to have a final plan in place in July 2011.

For more information, visit US280transitstudy.com.