Engineers say U.S. 72 expansion likely three years away

MADISON, Ala. - Tens of thousands of people take US-72 between Athens and Huntsville every day.

The traffic is attracting new businesses on both sides of the road, but traffic engineers say 72 will need to be expanded once again.

ALDOT engineers would like to extend the six lanes all the way to County Line Road, but they don't have $70 million in their back pocket. And they say money isn't the only sticking point.

"We try to come in the mornings. In the afternoon, it's bad," Madison resident Greg Terry said.

"I feel for the people who have to do the 6:00 to 4:00," Madison resident Tami Thompson said.

Both commuters and shoppers who frequent US-72 west of Huntsville know how hectic peak time can be.

"I've waited ten minutes to turn left," Terry said.

"My husband, bless his heart, drives from here to Research Park. So, when he gets to work, he texts me, 'Agh, it's just awful'," Thompson said.

On some stretches of 72, nearly 50,000 drivers go back and forth every day, but business owners say it's a mixed blessing.

"You pay for location. You want to be in the busiest location," Funky Monkey owner Mark Grasham said.

Frustration for many happens as the road narrows from six to four lanes just west of Providence Main.

"It's very hard to get out during the busy hours," said Grasham.

ALDOT engineers have been looking at expanding US-72 for years to meet the demand, but they admit the cost of doing so is only getting more expensive.

"We know we don't have enough money to carry it all the way to County Line Road," ALDOT north region engineer Curtis Vincent said.

Vincent says to expand the three miles from Providence Main to Hughes will cost around $40 million. That's over $10 million per mile. Here's why Vincent says it's so expensive. They have to build two new bridges over Indian Creek, a 10-foot multi-use path for walking and bike riding and they need every single impacted business and property owner to sign off before they can start.

"It's very unlikely it'll be 2021. It's still possible in early 2022 if we can get approval on the final design," Vincent said.

Vincent says they could spend nearly two years on design plans and acquiring right of way.

"Sometimes, we end up having to condemn right of way. That goes to court. Once it goes to court, we basically lose control of the time factor involved," Vincent said.

Vincent says that's a last resort. He says a third lane each way would increase safety and shorten commute times, but it means creeping onto the doorsteps of some businesses.

"We have extra parking available behind, so I don't think it's going to affect us much if they take some of our front away from us," Grasham said.

"If the money's there, I'm all for trying to get something done about the traffic," Terry said.

That relief for bumper to bumper drivers appears to be three long years away at least.

There's also a stretch of Huntsville Utilities power lines running parallel to US-72 that'll have to be moved or buried before the road can be widened.

Huntsville Utilities spokesmen tell WHNT News 19 they're waiting on direction from ALDOT as to how they should proceed.

The city of Huntsville has pledged around $30 million in federal highway money for the project.

Madison is offering $6.7 million.

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