MADISON COUNTY, Ala. Thousands of people know the traffic nightmare of driving on US 72 between Huntsville and Athens during rush hour. Project leaders have been talking about expanding 72 east of County Line Road from four lanes to six for the last four years.
They hoped if they could find over $30 million to pay for it, they could start. Now, the cost has nearly doubled.
One after the other, the night-time parade of headlights on US 72 continues as drivers head to dinner and head home. But the bumpers stack up as six lanes become four.
“It’s something we deal with pretty often with a project that’s a capacity project. It does make it more challenging, I agree,” says Les Hopson, a pre-construction engineer for ALDOT’s north region.
City leaders and department of transportation engineers have been drafting plans to widen 72 from Providence Main to County Line Road for four years.
“One, it’ll improve safety, and two, it’ll improve traffic flow,” Curtis Vincent said. Vincent is the region engineer for ALDOT and serves on the metropolitan planning organization.
“We’ve run into some cost issues with the project,” Hopson said.
Four years ago, project leaders hoped $40 million would cover the cost. Today, that estimate is $60 million.
“That’s a lot of money, no doubt that’s a lot of money,” Vincent said.
From Providence Main to County Line Road is just under six miles. After the latest cost estimate, that works out to about $10 million a mile to add a lane in each direction. You may be wondering, how could it cost that much? Vincent says it’s because of right of way. He says as more development happens along the 72 corridor, the land becomes more of a premium.
“But on a project of this magnitude, once you start buying right of way that’s expensive commercial property, it doesn’t take long for that cost to go up,” Vincent said.
“It’s essential that this corridor is addressed. There’s so many people using it right now, it doesn’t need to be delayed any longer,” Hopson said.
Hopson says they’ll also have to build a new bridge over Indian Creek. He’s hoping some federal dollars can help pay for the work.
Hopson says ALDOT and the city of Huntsville have a 50-50 agreement when it comes to paying for road projects. But, it’s likely construction on the new lanes likely wouldn’t begin until 2021.