With a bulldozer and Army surplus equipment, Cecil Ashburn and business partner Pat Gray established a road construction company in 1946. They were at the forefront of expanding and improving Huntsville’s roadway infrastructure in the boom years of the 1950s and 1960s, and Ashburn was recognized nationally as a leader in his industry.
It’s appropriate that Ashburn was namesake to a road that has been essential to the 21st Century growth of the city – and which now requires expansion itself.
As a two-lane road, it’s already at capacity.”
Cecil Ashburn Drive, which meanders over Huntsville Mountain from Jones Valley to Hampton Cove and which coincidentally passes near the late Ashburn’s old family homestead, is the next project being launched through the City of Huntsville’s Restore Our Roads program.
Opened in 2001 as a two-lane road with wide shoulders used by runners and cyclists, Cecil Ashburn Drive will be expanded to four lanes and still maintain eight-foot shoulders on both sides.
Expansion is needed because “as a two-lane road, it’s already at capacity,” says Kathy Martin, Director of City Engineering for the City of Huntsville.
The average daily traffic on Cecil Ashburn Drive is 17,000 vehicles, according to Dan Sanders, Director of Traffic Engineering. Governor’s Drive, which will assume a heavier load during this construction, has an average daily traffic of 28,160 between Dug Hill Road and Monte Sano.
City and state share cost of construction
The project will cover 3.4 miles and include a major overhaul of the Old Big Cove Road intersection at the foot of the mountain on the east side. The estimated cost is $15 million and is being shared equally by the State of Alabama and City of Huntsville.
Though physical construction is still months away, much work has already been done in studying, planning, engineering – and listening.
The City held a public meeting early in this process to hear residents’ input. According to Martin, “There were some great ideas we’ve implemented.”
They include a redesign to assure more adequate turn-around areas for emergency vehicles, improving the Old Big Cove Road congestion and an emphasis on communication about road-closure status.
“People wanted to be able to check their phones before they pull out of their driveways and pull up an app to see where there were closures,” Martin says.
Here are 10 things you need to know about the Cecil Ashburn Drive widening project:
- The City is finalizing right-of-way acquisitions now and will be bidding the project in April. Construction work will begin in late May.
- Construction is being scheduled so much of the disruptive work will take place when school isn’t in session; the summer months tend to have less traffic at peak times.
- Completion is expected by the end of 2020.
- There will be a six-month period with hours or days of total closure when explosive blasting is taking place. However, through most of the construction, there will still be two operable lanes.
- Contractors will employ “very controlled blasting” to carve away at the mountain, according to Martin.
- The blasting will be minimized because initial construction done by the state in 1999 and 2000 provided sufficient width in most areas for four lanes.
- To assure safety, Martin says “open graded friction courses” pavement will be applied. Such pavement offers improved surface draining during rain and minimizes the chance of hydroplaning.
- This will also lead to improvements at the Land Trust of North Alabama property on the east side of the mountain, which has become a popular spot for hiking.
- “Restore Our Roads” is a $250-million cost-sharing program between the Alabama Department of Transportation and the City of Huntsville that has already brought major improvements elsewhere, including the South Parkway overpasses (currently ahead of schedule), Zierdt Road and the impending Northern Bypass.
- The City of Huntsville website will actively inform residents of road closures and delays on Cecil Ashburn. Social media outlets, such as the City’s Facebook and Twitter accounts, will provide real-time information, and the City’s media partners will be kept abreast of closings to relay news to their audiences.