Cecil Ashburn Drive construction could lead to road closure

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. - The Cecil Ashburn Drive project, a high-interest topic in the community, will need to undergo some changes according to Huntsville city officials.

More than 17,000 cars travel up and down Cecil Ashburn Drive, making it a main thoroughfare. It already needs to be widened from two to four lanes, according to the city's top official.

"We're going to have future growth over in the Valley, over in Hampton Cove. We're going to have future in Jones Valley and traffic counts are only going to go up," said Mayor Tommy Battle.

"It's a corridor that over capacity. It's something that we got to address," added Shane Davis, director of Urban and Economic Development.

But the anticipated widening project comes with a higher cost than originally planned: Davis said the project bid $10 million over what the city anticipated. He said the extra cost is attributed to the traffic control and materials (like barrels, signage, and workers to flag) that it would take to keep the road open during construction. Plus, keeping the road open (as was the original intent) would stretch the project over 2.5 years, he said, which he recognized was not ideal.

In Thursday night's city council meeting, Davis told the group that his team is reevaluating how the construction will happen in order to widen the road, which he argues still needs to happen.

To reduce cost, they are looking at traffic options during the project.  That includes what it would take to close down the road completely.

Davis said that would mean getting the road done in 12 months instead.

"We think we can drastically reduce the time frame, but it may involve closing the road to allow a contractor to get in and get out," Davis noted. "I know early on, about half the citizens were ok with seeing it close completely to get it finished, but some wanted to maintain some kind of travel across. We think, since we opened these current bids, that may not be feasible. Certainly, if we can save $7-8 million and a year and a half in time, that may be the best option."

"It may be a painful process to go through, but if we wait," Battle said, "all we've done is put our problems off and made our problems bigger." He added that it's a tough decision to make, but the city can not wait to make it.

This upcoming week, Davis said they will try to come up with a good plan to recommend to the city and to find ways to increase costs to rebid the project for construction. They still want to start the project in the summer, dependent on the bids, but they know schools and churches along with people who live nearby will have to live with the effects.

WHNT spoke to several residents and businesses along Cecil Ashburn Road who say there need to be more options.

"Some people are apprehensive about the road being closed," said resident Robert Neighbors.

Neighbors said he's lived along the road for 20 years and he's in favor of the council doing whatever it takes to get the road fixed.

"If they have to close the road to put in additionally lanes and make it safer, I think in the long run that's a good thing," said Neighbors.

Davis said he'll return to the board in 10 days with a recommendation. The Department of Urban and Economic Development is reviewing the bids for the project, with hopes of getting it done within budget. Davis said the longer they wait on the project, the more delays and costs the city will see.

"I've got a great team of intelligent engineers and traffic engineers who are analyzing. I think we will come back with a plan that might not please everybody in the city, but it will be economical. I think it will be faster and less painful," said Davis.