Highway 52 plans are a nice surprise

Published 11:49 am Tuesday, March 13, 2012

By NEAL WAGNER / City Editor

I was pleasantly surprised on March 7 when I took my first look at a map of the Alabama Department of Transportation’s proposed plan to widen U.S. 31 from four to six lanes.

In addition to showing a preliminary depiction of where the extra lanes could be built, the map also included plans to straighten out the intersection of Shelby County 52 and U.S. 31 near the Home Depot store.

Drivers who are traveling from the I-65 tank farm exit to Helena must turn right onto U.S. 31 next to the Home Depot, cross two lanes of traffic and then make an immediate left onto Highway 52 west.

When Highway 52 was built, the populations of Pelham and Helena were drastically smaller than they are now. The 52-31 intersection just wasn’t designed to handle the amount of cars it does today.

To make matters worse, there are a pair of railroad crossings on Highway 52 west very close to the intersection.

I knew there had been talks in the past about looking into straightening out that intersection and building a bridge over the two railroad tracks, but I was surprised to see it included in the project to widen Highway 31.

As anyone who regularly drives that stretch of road can tell you, the intersection straightening and fly-over are badly needed. Nearly every route from Pelham to Helena is affected by a railroad crossing, meaning trains potentially could delay emergency response in some parts of those cities.

Plus, a slow-moving train can cause traffic nightmares on both Highway 52 and U.S. 31.

If the project is constructed as proposed, it would allow drivers on Highway 52 near Home Depot to go straight across U.S. 31, drive on a bridge over the railroad tracks and connect with the current Highway 52 near its intersection with Clark Street.

I know this ALDOT project is still in the preliminary stages, and the design likely will change as time goes on, but I sincerely hope this Highway 52 component stays a part of the project in some form.

Pelham and Helena have grown by leaps and bounds over the past few decades. It’s good to see our roads may finally be catching up.

Neal Wagner is the city editor for the Shelby County Reporter. He can be reached at 669-3131 ext. 17 or by email at neal.wagner@shelbycountyreporter.com.