An Alabama Department of Transportation (ALDOT) proposal to begin addressing the abhorrent congestion on Highway 280 is ready for scrutiny.
On Monday, Nov. 19, ALDOT is giving the public the opportunity to review and comment on a new multi-million dollar plan to reduce average drive times down Highway 280. The plan focuses on proposed changes to 26 intersections between Hollywood Boulevard, located less than a mile past the Red Mountain Expressway interchange, and Hugh Daniel Drive, one intersection east of State Highway 119.
“Our goal is to shorten a driver’s trip by three to five minutes,” ALDOT Director John Cooper said while speaking to the Mountain Brook Chamber of Commerce last month. “I believe this will cost $12-15 million, and we’ll be able to take it to bid by April and have it done by November 2013.”
According to ALDOT Division 3 Engineer Brian Davis, the plan involves a long list of improvements, and the department has a different plan for each intersection. Among other things, the project includes eliminating some access points to the main highway, reconfiguring side streets and widening intersections.
Mostly, though, it’s about the lights.
Davis explained that the average cycle for a traffic signal on Highway 280 is 170 seconds, and the highway is only allocated an average of 65 seconds per cycle. The proposed plan could raise that to an average of 110 seconds.
With that extra 45 seconds, a car traveling at the 55 mile-per-hour speed limit – pending it wasn’t stopped by another light – could cover almost seven-10ths of a mile.
The predicted time savings of three to five minutes may even be an understatement, Davis said. ALDOT is currently installing a high-tech traffic signal system called SCATS along Highway 280, which uses an adaptive computer system to reduce traffic delays by adapting to fluctuations in traffic. That project was bid before the proposal to alter intersections, and the two haven’t been modeled together.
But with all the positives that come from a shorter drive down 280, Davis said he is aware ALDOT will be asking drivers to do things differently. At multiple intersections, ALDOT is proposing to remove the ability for drivers to either travel directly across or make left turns. However, the voices of many will likely outweigh the voices of a few. Division 3 Preconstruction Engineer Lance Taylor said some parts of Highway 280 carry more than 100,000 cars a day.
“We have got to consider the issues for the 100,000 to be more important than the issues of the couple thousand trying to get from one side (of Highway 280) to the other,” Davis said. “Change is scary and change is sometimes painful, but our goal is to balance that so at the end of their trip they say, ‘I’m better off because I saved four or five minutes.’”
Davis and Taylor stressed the proposal being discussed on Nov. 19 was not the big fix for the highway’s traffic dilemma and has nothing to do with an elevated highway or toll road. In fact, four of the intersections that provide drivers with the most headaches – Rock Ridge Road, Interstate 459, Valleydale Road and Highway 119 – aren’t included. He said these intersections required a more time-intensive and costly commitment from the department.
“I think the department will always be working on a long-term solution for 280,” Davis said. “But if you can spend $12-15 million and make a pretty decent improvement in the meantime, then all of a sudden you make it a more usable facility while you develop your solution.
“Those people out there need a break and they need it today.”