Good news: Less traffic accelerates Huntsville road projects

single-meta-cal May 6, 2020

As more people stay home due to COVID-19, the City of Huntsville’s Traffic Engineering Department has stayed busy.

City Engineer Kathy Martin

Huntsville Director of Engineering Kathy Martin

Traffic has dropped considerably with schools closed and many offices requiring employees to work from home. As a result, crews have spent more time than usual on important road projects throughout the City.

We caught up with City Engineer Kathy Martin this week to discuss what her team has been up to and what you can expect on your commute in the next few months.

Can you update us on road projects currently underway?

Martin: Here is the status of some of the bigger projects we’re working on:

Zierdt Road – Phase IV of construction is currently underway.  The contractor has shifted traffic to the new northbound lanes between Madison Boulevard and Edgewater Drive, and anticipates doing more lane shifts toward the end of this month. The contractor is currently working at both the Martin Road and Madison Boulevard intersections and along the southbound lanes to Edgewater Drive. The contractor will begin working on raising a section of the northbound lanes near Edgewater Drive and will also continue to raise the intersection of Martin Road now that the new traffic signals have been installed. Upon completion of this work next month, all traffic will be shifted to the new northbound lanes so the contractor can begin work on the existing roadway. The estimated completion date is fall 2021.

Martin Road, Phase I – The contractor has finished relocating water and sewer lines and installed asphalt on the north side of Martin Road. Traffic has shifted to the north side of the road so the contractor can begin work on the south side. Utility relocations are complete; however, improvements at the creek have been delayed due to high water levels. The estimated completion is in early 2021.

Haysland Road Extension, Phase II – Grading and drainage are almost complete, but areas that remain saturated due to high groundwater conditions are still lacking. Utilities are 95 percent complete and the greenway path is 90 percent complete. The contractor has finished widening on Hobbs Road and begun installing new traffic signals at the intersection of Redstone Road. We anticipate an estimated completion of summer 2020.

What about Cecil Ashburn, Winchester Road and Five Points?

Martin: Of course. Here’s the latest on those projects:

Cecil Ashburn Drive – Phase II is underway while motorists use the two new eastbound lanes for temporary two-way traffic. The contractor has completed most construction items, such as drainage infrastructure, lower binder layers and guardrails. Sutton Road is near completion with new curbs, gutters, sidewalks and traffic signals. The roadways lack a final wearing asphalt layer and permanent striping.

The contractor is currently focused on the condition of the uphill slope adjacent to the new roadway and will excavate and remove additional areas to minimize future maintenance concerns. Excessive wet weather since January and saturated soil conditions have slowed down progress as the contractor continues to stabilize the rock face adjacent to the roadway. However, the wet weather has also been helpful in identifying areas still needing attention as the landscape changes after each excessive rain event. They will continue to remove and stabilize loose material as much as possible. We estimate the additional work will take approximately 60-90 days with weather and site conditions permitting. The contractor will then install the final open-graded friction course asphalt layer, permanent striping and signage to complete the new westbound lanes. Motorists may encounter traffic delays for a few minutes at a time while the contractor removes debris from the roadway, as well as periodic lane shifts when paving and striping occurs during the remaining scope of work.

The Land Trust of North Alabama parking area remains closed and is being used to store equipment and materials needed to complete the project. Motorists should be aware the roadway remains an active construction zone with a speed limit of 35 mph. The project should be fully complete in July 2020.

Winchester Road from Dominion to Naugher Road – The design is approximately 90 percent complete, while right-of-way acquisition is 50 percent complete. We anticipate a spring 2021 start of construction.

Five Points Streetscape Project – Construction began in April 2019. The contractor is currently setting new traffic and pedestrian signals as well as performing punch-list items of work. Completion should occur in June 2020.

How has decreased traffic these last few weeks allowed you to get more work done?

Martin: Our contractors have been very busy since the State order allows construction to continue during this time. It has been very important that we take advantage of the decrease in traffic throughout the City and at each Arsenal gate to maximize work as traffic congestion decreases.

As weather permits, the Zierdt and Martin Road projects have worked extended hours versus the 9 a.m. – 3 p.m. schedule previously required. The contractor is currently setting new signals at the intersection directly in front of Gate 7 and will continue with the removal of the old signals during this time.

Contractors have changed the work sequence over the past month on Haysland Road to focus more on Redstone Road improvements directly in front of Gate 3. They are taking advantage of this gate being completely closed and will reconfigure the roadway and install a new signal at Redstone Road.

The traffic decrease has also had a positive effect on widening Research Park Boulevard. As part of this project, the demolition of the Old Madison Pike bridge has progressed much faster than anticipated due to less congestion and increased safety in the area.

The decrease in traffic on Cecil Ashburn has allowed the contractor to perform additional slope maintenance in a safe manner with minimal disruption to traffic.

As businesses open and people return to their offices, should commuters anticipate any changes in traffic flow?

Martin: No change. The contractor will resume contractual work hours depending on the project.

What other traffic opportunities has the City capitalized on during COVID-19?

Martin: Not only are we resequencing the work on active construction projects, we have also expedited maintenance work on major corridors. Patton Road is being resurfaced due to lack of traffic at Gate 1, and a new turn lane has been installed on Franklin Street at Governors Drive.

Safety and traffic delays are always primary concerns when performing roadway improvement projects. Being able to improve safety for the workers and to the motorists has proven to be real benefit during this time. This allows the contractor to make more progress on each project.

Do you have any road safety tips for commuters?

Martin: Contractors continue to perform work, so we would like to remind everyone to be careful when resuming travel and remember that the speed limit is 35 mph through a construction zone.

How are you preparing for increased traffic as more people begin returning to work?

Martin: Traffic Engineering will continue to monitor traffic signals at our busiest intersections and will make needed changes as traffic resumes a normal schedule. We continuously monitor the signals regardless of pandemic, but will do our best to stay on top of it as traffic schedules and patterns change.

For more information, follow the City of Huntsville’s Roadwork Updates page.