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Huntsville Hires UAH Professor to Review Wal-Mart-Funded Traffic Study of Proposed Mason Plaza site

HUNTSVILLE, Al. (WHNT) - The city has hired a UAH professor to review a traffic study that found Memorial Parkway could handle the extra traffic from a new Wal-Mart Supercenter at Mason Plaza.

Dr. Michael Anderson is charging the city $7,400 to provide a second opinion on the study by Skipper Consulting. Anderson has already begun his review and could be finished by the end of this week.

City councilman Bill Kling says Wal-Mart will wait on requesting a building permit until the results come in.

“I think the neighborhood came up with a very good choice,” says Kling. “Dr. Anderson who’s local and we’re looking forward to seeing what those results are going to be.”

Members of the Midtown Huntsville Association, comprised largely of residents of the Piedmont neighborhood behind Mason Plaza, are skeptical of the Skipper study because Wal-Mart paid for it.

The association originally asked the city to hire VRPA Technologies to perform a second, independent traffic study. Mayor Tommy Battle objected to using VRPA because of the cost – estimated at more than $40,000 – and the fact that it would take several weeks for the California-based engineering firm to become licensed to work in Alabama.

“The contract with Dr. Anderson is going to be about one fifth of what the contract with the other company would have been and he’s going to be able to get it done on time so I think we are going to have some pretty good information to look at,” says Kling.

Battle recommended hiring Mobile-based Volkert & Associates instead, but members of the association contend Volkert has too many business ties to Skipper Consulting.

“The neighborhood group was really looking for someone who was local, who was knowledgable, who was essentially independent of the city, or the original consultant or Wal-Mart,” explains Anderson.

Anderson says he has been working since he received the study Friday to review parameters and inputs used by Skipper consulting.

“My job is to go in and look a the traffic study that was originally done by Skipper Consulting and make sure that Skipper really did follow basic, what would be respected, standard practices and to make sure there weren’t any sort of items in there that were questionable.”

If Anderson finds any discrepancies in the Skipper report, said Kling, state Senator Paul Sanford – a Piedmont neighborhood resident - has promised to quickly get that information into the hands of Alabama Department of Transportation officials.

“The residents should feel comfortable that what was done is what really is going to happen,” says Anderson.

The proposed 150,000-square-foot Supercenter at Mason Plaza would replace Wal-Mart’s aging Drake Avenue store, which opened as a Kmart in 1972. Mason Plaza is on the east side of Memorial Parkway between Drake Avenue and Airport Road. Wal-Mart is leasing the 13.56-acre site from Bragg Development Properties.