ALDOT proposes U.S. 280 changes

By KATIE MCDOWELL/Lifestyles Editor

The Alabama Department of Transportation introduced improvements to U.S. Highway 280 during a public involvement meeting Nov. 19 at the Cahaba Grand Conference Center in Birmingham.

During an open house and presentation, ALDOT officials introduced the proposed changes, which will affect 26 intersections between Hollywood Boulevard and Hugh Daniel Drive.

The improvements include the following actions, according to an ALDOT statement:

• Remove or modify traffic signals

• Modify pavement markings, stripes and signage

• Eliminate access points

• Eliminate or modify turning movements and median crossings

• Reconstruct/reconfigure side streets to modify through and turning movements

• Widen intersections to accommodate additional turn lanes

• Addition of auxiliary lanes.

Brian Davis, ALDOT 3rd Division Engineer, said the project will cost approximately $15 million. He said they hope to begin construction in early summer 2013 and complete it by November 2013.

“Our overall goal is to get more green time on 280,” he said.

“Green time” is the amount of time stoplights are green. Davis said the average stoplight cycle on U.S. 280 is 200 seconds. In other words, it takes a little more than three minutes for a light to turn from red to green for any lane of traffic.

The problem, Davis said, was U.S. 280 was receiving approximately 100 of the 200 seconds of green time.

“You’re seeing the side streets are having a tremendous impact on 280,” he said. “Our goal is to modify some of those side streets movements … and give the green time back to 280.”

Davis said the goal is to add about 20 seconds to U.S. 280 green time, which will bring it to 120 seconds per cycle.

ALDOT is also working on an “adaptive signal system,” which will use cameras to adjust the stoplights depending on the flow of traffic at that time.

“When you get those two projects together, we feel like it will be a meaningful improvement on 280,” he said.

Darrell Skipper of Skipper Consulting, a Birmingham engineering firm that oversaw the proposal, said U.S. 280 has traffic problems because it now serves two functions. It must provide mobility for commuters traveling to and from Birmingham, as well as providing local access to communities and retail areas.

Skipper said the proposed changes will result in a conservative increase of 4-5 miles per hour and a 20 percent savings in fuel during a driver’s U.S. 280 commute.

He also said the construction will be planned with regard to peak traffic and lanes will only be closed at night or on weekends.

Greystone resident Jay Phelan said he had concerns about how commuters will handle the proposed changes.

“People are going to have to really be educated about where they can no longer make turns,” he said.

However, he said he felt that the proposal would benefit commuters as a whole.

“I think the overall effect is going to be positive for anyone using more than one intersection,” he said.

James Talbert, a Meadowbrook resident, also expressed concern about how drivers will react to the changes and asked that the new signs be clearly marked.

“We’re going to have a hard time adapting to this. This is going to be a big change for us old-timers,” he said during a commenting session following the presentation.

Several retailers and elected officials, mostly from Jefferson County, also expressed concern about safety issues and reduced traffic flow to businesses during the commenting session.

Davis said the changes introduced Nov. 19 are inexpensive, short-term solutions to U.S. 280 traffic because the changes can be made without buying right-of-way. He also said the elevated toll road, which ALDOT proposed several years ago to a heated response, remains the permanent solution.

ALDOT is currently examining the costs of the proposed toll road to see if it is an economically feasible solution.

“It may be the fix, but it may be one of those things that we just can’t afford to do and it may be the fix that people just aren’t ready for,” Davis said.

ALDOT Director John Cooper said the department has limited funds from taxpayers for roadwork throughout the state. ALDOT’s main goals are to maintain and preserve the current infrastructure and to find ways to improve current flow along major roads.

“What I’m telling you is building more lanes and building new roads is something that, by and large across the state, we do not have the funding to do,” he said.