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The Beltine looking north from Old Moulton Road to Alabama 24 has the appearance of a roadrace course Monday, the day before the start of the widening project.
Daily photo by John Godbey
The Beltine looking north from Old Moulton Road to Alabama 24 has the appearance of a roadrace course Monday, the day before the start of the widening project.

widening begins

First of 3 phases could take 18 months to complete; traffic slowdowns expected

By Bayne Hughes · 340-2432

The project engineer for the long-awaited Beltline Road widening project said bulldozers should begin moving dirt at 8 a.m. Tuesday.

Crews of APAC Southeast of Huntsville, a road construction company with offices in Huntsville and Birmingham, were preparing Monday to begin Phase 1. They will expand the four-lane, 2.3-mile spur between Cedar Street Southwest (just past Danville Road at Barnhill’s Buffet) and Alabama 24 into a six-lane highway.

APAC Project Engineer Carlos Broadway said the $6.1 million project could take 18 months.

When Mayor Don Kyle heard the news Monday, he said had to go to the Beltline to see the preparations for himself. About 31,000 vehicles a day use this portion of the city’s busiest road.

“I’m sure I’ll be like everyone else,” Kyle said. “I’m tickled to see it started, but I’ll be fussing about the traffic jams and the slowing down that it will cause.”

Discussion of widening the highway began in 1997 when city leaders started looking for ways to alleviate traffic jams. At the time, officials wanted a limited access “outer Beltline” between Alabama 20 and Somerville/Priceville areas.

They said widening the Beltline would be an acceptable alternative while state and Congressional leaders arrange an estimated $85 million for Veterans Parkway that is years away.

Median work

Most of the widening work will be in the medians, as workers add third lanes to the north and south lanes.

“This is one of the more challenging projects because of the amount of traffic and the developments along this corridor,” Alabama Department of Transportation Director Johnny Harris said. “We have to deal with the traffic, while maintaining access to adjacent properties.”

Mark Petersohn, Decatur’s director of engineering and public works, is working with APAC to plan removal and replacement of traffic lights, which Decatur owns.

Petersohn and Broadway said the work will be in sections. APAC will begin the project at the median nearest the point traffic exits Alabama 24 and crosses over to turn north on the Beltline. The first section will extend to Old Moulton Road. Workers will close the inside of the south lanes and, when finished, move over and close the inside of the north lanes.

“Right now, we’re trying to keep at least three lanes open at all times,” Petersohn said.

Broadway said his crews may have to do some night work from 7 p.m. until 6 a.m. when workers lay drainage pipe. This would close both lanes in one direction. Currently, drainage water runs into the median.

Broadway said his biggest concerns are weather and low property that doesn’t drain well.

“It shouldn’t be a difficult project,” he said.

This is a three-phase project. Phase 2 is a 1.2-mile strip from Alabama 24 to Alabama 20. Pending funding availability, Harris said this estimated $3 million phase would probably be in the 2008 fiscal year budget.

Phase 3 is a 2.4-mile project between Danville Road and U.S. 31 (Sixth Avenue). Projected to cost more than $8 million, plans call for the funding in the 2009 budget.

This phase is the most expensive and difficult because it includes the railroad bridge near Wilson-Morgan Park.

Time line for widening a busy road

Beltline Road is about 5.9 miles of Alabama 67, between U.S. 31 and Alabama 20 in Decatur’s city limits.

  • 1974 — City officials begin campaigning to four-lane the road, citing increased development and traffic. “Operation Death Trap,” a project of Decatur insurance agents, rates the two-lane Beltline Road as the city’s most hazardous road.

  • 1978 – The state Department of Transportation spends $3.1 million to four-lane the road.

  • 1997 — City officials discuss the need to alleviate traffic on Beltline Road and propose a limited access, interstate-style “outer Beltline.”

  • 1999 — State Transportation Director Mack Roberts says the outer Beltline is not in the state’s plans, so city officials focus on six-laning Beltline Road. Decatur’s Planning Commission advocates that the expansion include limited access points, but retailers balk at the idea, claiming limited access would hurt their businesses. City officials back off on the idea.

  • 2004 — Beltline widening is delayed because of Congress’ failure to pass a six-year highway funding bill.

  • 2005 — State DOT says engineering delays held up widening. Gov. Bob Riley announces at the Rotary Club of Decatur that widening would begin in spring 2006.

  • 2006 — Riley approves a construction contract Nov. 30 for Phase 1.

  • 2007 — In January, the state swaps the second and third phases, moving the $3 million Alabama 24-to-Alabama 20 section of Beltline Road to 2008 budget plans and pushing the $8 million Danville Road-to-U.S. 31 section to 2009.

  • Construction begins March 20 on Phase 1.

    Bayne Hughes

    Traffic jams

    Decatur’s busiest traffic spots are:

  • Sixth Avenue (U.S. 31) at Alabama 20 — About 45,000 vehicles a day.

  • Beltline Road at Spring Avenue Southwest — About 38,000 a day.

  • Sixth Avenue at Stratford Road Southeast — About 34,000 a day.

  • Beltline Road, between Westmead and Betty streets Southwest — About 31,000 a day.

    Source: Alabama Department of Transportation

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