City plans to close Cecil Ashburn Drive in early 2019 to add more lanes

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. -- Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle said the city will close Cecil Ashburn Drive in January to widen the road.

After the holiday season, the city plans to  close the road and start the work, Battle said, with the hope that additional lanes will be finished and ready to drive on within 10 and 14 months.

The $15 million widening project will add two lanes between Old Big Cove Road and Four Mile Post Road, adding traffic capacity and easing traffic congestion between Jones Valley and the Hampton Cove area. The expansion will also alleviate congestion on Governors Drive going over Monte Sano, Battle said.

Battle said the decision to close the road was like ripping off a Band-Aid.

"Is it one we want to face? No," Battle said. "Is it one we have to face? Yes."

Previously, city officials have considered the options of keeping one lane open during construction.

Battle said keeping one lane of the road open would stretch the timeline on the project to more than three years and add millions of dollars to the project.

Kathy Martin, the director of the city's engineering department, said the project will involve blasting that would require road closures for safety reasons. That took away the feasibility of keeping one lane of traffic open during the work.

"Just to open the road, the contractor has to clean the road, set up all the traffic control, get the flag men out there, stop work basically in order to let these cars across the mountain," Martin said.

Another option was doing nothing on Cecil Ashburn, Battle said, which didn't make sense because of the growth in the area.

"If we keep adding to the road system and do nothing, we end up with a worse problem in 10 years than we do today," he said. "And that problem will be one that will have some real heartache and heartburn to be able to fix."

Dennis Madsen, the manager of urban and long range planning for the city, said his department has been working to find ways to alleviate traffic headaches during the project.

"Everything is on the table at this point, and we've been looking at all these options with the other departments to lay out a series of strategies that can at least take some of that stress off while the work is underway," Madsen said.

Madsen said they would bring traffic ideas to the public for consideration in the coming weeks.

The changes on Cecil Ashburn from Donegal Drive to Taylor Road are also aimed at making the road safer, according to Martin. The project will install a concrete median and also have improvements to the asphalt to prevent hydroplaning during wet weather, she said.

Updates on the project will be posted on the city's website.