Roadscapes Wednesday: Decatur Toll Bridge, Coalburg Road Closure, Interstate 22 Closure


Roadscapes Geek Alabama

The last week has been fun for our road network here in Alabama.  I am going to talk about three different projects taking place here in Alabama that has a lot of people questioning why they are being done now, and severely impacting traffic or is about too.

Decatur Toll Bridge

ALDOT has proposed a new toll bridge to be built across the Tennessee River on the western side of Decatur to connect Alternate US 72 to Alabama 20 and Interstate 565.  Currently, over 38,000 vehicles every day cross the Tennessee River on the US 31 bridges.  Then traffic wanting to use Alt. US 72 has to use a surface street which is not designed for the traffic.  While I don’t have a problem of the state wanting to build a toll bridge to help traffic bypass Decatur.  I have a problem of taking an existing highway and turning it into a toll road.

map

Alabama 20 / Alternate US 72 between US 31 and Interstate 65 is currently a 4 lane highway with little development.  ALDOT wants to turn the current 4-lane into a 6-lane freeway with service roads on both ends.  The catch, along with tolling the new bridge, they want to toll the current route to Huntsville as well.  And I think this is a horrible idea.  Tolling the only reliable route from Decatur to Huntsville is bad for the people commuting every day back and forth.  And if an accident happens on Interstate 65 at the Tennessee River bridges, which happen often, you will force traffic onto a toll road, and anger a lot of drivers!

ALDOT has hired some engineers to study the concept.  They are wanting to base everything around a $2 toll for car drivers.  Like I said, if they want to build a new bridge and toll it, I have no problem with that as long as the current bridges on US 31 crossing the river remain free.  But if ALDOT wants to toll an already existing highway, it is going to cause problems.  Drivers will utilize the service roads or nearby country roads to shunpike the tolls.  The project to build the new bridge and upgrade the current highway to a freeway will cost around $500 million.  And people commenting have already asked where all of the taxpayer money is going.  Because people are getting tired of ALDOT wanting to toll everything.

Coalburg Road Closure

A lot of people are not happy with the city of Birmingham for closing a very short and popular cut-through route to connect from the temporary end of Interstate 22 to Interstate 65.  A few days ago, Coalburg Road between Interstate 22 and Daniel Payne Drive was closed so the road can be reconstructed.  And the road badly needed redoing, because there was numerous potholes and other problems like the base surface of the road failing.  I have been on Coalburg Road a few times, and everyday there is non-stop traffic going bumper to bumper, all while trying to dodge the huge potholes!

So for the next six to eight weeks, drivers have to find another way to connect to Interstate 65.  The city released a suggested detour map telling drivers to use US 78 to connect to Interstate 65.  But since many drivers don’t want to deal with the numerous traffic lights on US 78, including me, there is another simple way to get to Interstate 65.  When you get to Coalburg Road on I-22, turn left, go for about a 1/2 mile, turn right onto Shady Grove Road, then turn right onto Walker Chapel Road, then connect to I-65, that’s it!  At least Coalburg Road is being worked on now, it should have been worked on years ago!

map 2

Interstate 22 Jasper Closure

I also wanted to talk about another very weird move to close down an entire interstate for months to redo the existing road.  In the Birmingham Metro, several stretches of interstate were closed for a short amount of time to redo the entire surface.  The difference, there was an interstate detour available to go around the closure.  With the I-22 closure in Jasper, there is no interstate detour.  And all of that interstate traffic has to go onto US 78, which is clogged with strip malls, traffic, and lots of traffic lights.  Yeah, that was a smart move.

i-22

The current road has base problems with very bumpy road conditions around the approaches to the bridges.  Here is the funny part, the contractor who built the original freeway won the contract to redo the freeway that they built!  I wonder how that happened, other than the low bid thing.  I also wonder why it took so long to come in and redo the road?  And I also wonder why ALDOT did not convert one side to two-way traffic while the construction crews redo the other side?  Oh well, at least I don’t travel through there.  The westbound lanes are closed until early July.  And after the 4th of July holiday, the eastbound lanes will be closed until early September.

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Roadscapes Wednesday: 49th and 50th Geek Alabama Road Drawings


Roadscapes Geek Alabama

I have been drawing roads all of my life, but I have reached my 50th road drawing since I started the Geek Alabama blog!  So in this Roadscapes post, I am featuring my 49th and 50th road drawing.  The first road drawing features a simple 2-lane freeway with a left hand exit for a rest area.  The unique feature is the truck way-in-motion in the right lane.  The second road drawing features a 2-lane highway at a traffic light intersection.  The unique thing here is the one-way bridge for a park road.

If you want to learn more about how I draw my road drawings, click on the link at:  http://geekalabama.com/road-drawings/ or view the SlideShare presentation below!

roads 049roads 050

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Roadscapes Wednesday: Quintard / Greenbrier Traffic Light Still Broken


Roadscapes Geek Alabama

I can not believe some traffic lights here in Anniston still has some of their sensors broken.  And one of the lights with broken sensors is at Quintard Ave. and Greenbrier Dear Road.  I first profiled this light back in November 2012 where a sensor for a left turn signal is malfunctioning.  Also, a sensor to cross Quintard Ave. for Greenbrier Dear Road traffic is also malfunctioning.  Here is video of that, with a car running a red light.

Last week, I went back out and nothing has changed!  All of the malfunctioning sensors are still malfunctioning.  And some cars are still running the red lights because they don’t want to sit there for no reason.  The problem is worse when the traffic light synchronization on Quintard Ave. goes off during the late night hours.

So, is everything going to stay the same or will someone finally fix these problems?  People are running red lights because they know the light is broken.  Is it going to take someone getting killed before something is done?  I hope not!  It could be worse, when many drivers run this light when the power is out.

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Roadscapes Wednesday: Is Southern Suburban Sprawl Killing Us?


Roadscapes Geek Alabama

Here is a great question to ask yourself, is suburban sprawl in the south in cities like Atlanta, Nashville, Charlotte, Birmingham, and others killing us?  According to a study from the University of Utah, it is.  The study revealed that residents in sprawling cities are more likely to suffer from societal ills such as fatal car wrecks, high transportation costs, and obesity.  At the same time this study came out from Utah, the organization called Smart Growth America released their list of America’s most sprawling cities.  Number one, Atlanta!  Number two is Nashville, number three is Riverside, CA, number four is Warren, MI, and number five is Charlotte.

Both of these studies should come as no surprise, as cities in the southeastern US are very sprawled.  Sprawl in the Atlanta Metro reaches out for more than 50 miles!  Smart Growth America said that in more compact cities like New York City for example, a child born in poverty has better odds that he/she will become rich.  People living in more compact cities also lives on average three years more compared to people living in sprawling cities.  In the study from the University of Utah, sprawling cities often means more people eat out at fast-food joints and walks less.  And people living in sprawling cities are more likely to be in poverty, because of the much longer distance to get to jobs.

So, are these two studies true, or are they blowing some hot air?  In Alabama, and other southern states.  It is often very true, that you don’t have sidewalks available outside of downtown areas and you have to walk in the grass, that is often filled with broken glass, trash, and even used syringes!  Believe me, I have seen them.  Combine that with drivers, who sometimes throws trash at walkers, honks their horns, or yells out of their windows.  And you can see why it’s dangerous to walk on the side of the road.  In the south, some people actually get in the car and drive, to a walking track, just to walk and get some exercise.  It should be the other way around!

With some people living 10, 20, or even 30 miles away from their jobs, that means they have to drive, and deal with lots of traffic.  When you are driving in your car from home to work, and it takes you an hour or more in your commute to reach your destination, that does not leave you with much time to cook a healthy meal or get some exercise, fast-food joints to the rescue!  In places like Atlanta or Birmingham for example, land to build new homes is very cheap.  And some people can not trust the governments in big cities like Atlanta or Birmingham.  Another problem, crime is up in urban areas and some people determine that urban areas are not safe, that means these people will do anything to live far away from an urban area, no matter how much their health or income suffers.

But I think the mindset is changing, especially in the Millennial age group (people around age 30 and below).  Many Millennials does not want to deal with living miles away from their careers and driving for a long period of time.  If you have noticed, cities like Charlotte, Nashville, and even Atlanta, are investing in new mass transit options.  The results, more people are moving back to the downtown areas, and most of these people are under age 30.  Another benefit to moving back to a downtown area, better social mobility, more sidewalks, restaurants and stores closer together, and more!  More and more Millennials prefers to live in dense, diverse urban villages where social interaction is just outside their front doors.  You only get that in cities, and not in the suburbs.

I found this very interesting study from Nielsen that should surprise you.  Sixty-two percent of Millennials indicate they prefer to live in the type of mixed-use communities found in urban centers, where they can be close to shops, restaurants, and offices.  And 40 percent say they would like to live in an urban area in the future.  As a result, for the first time since the 1920′s growth in U.S. cities outpaces growth outside of them.  In a nutshell, Millennials are tired of wasting time and money driving to do simple tasks like buying groceries, eating at a restaurant, going to the gym, going to an event, etc. They want to be in close proximity to excitement, diversity, and vibrancy.  This is why cities like Austin are very popular with the Millennial age group.

So if cities in the south and in Alabama like Birmingham wants to stay competitive and grow, things are going to have to change!  For one, cities must get their crime under control and improve their schools.  With high crime and poor school performances, Millennials are more likely to avoid these cities.  Which in turn means fewer jobs.  Cities must expand their mass transit offerings!  And cities must give people a reason to live in downtown.  In Birmingham, you have the newly build Regions Field, and more things are coming!  But without a good mass transit system, things are being built in a much more slower pace.  If the state of Alabama would invest in more mass transit like light rail for example, cities would grow faster than they do now!

So, cities in the southeastern USA.  Will will continue what you do now, and risk losing out on growth?  Or will you change, and offer more people a reason to live in a city?  I guess we will see!

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Roadscapes Wednesday: The Weird Alexander City Intersection


Roadscapes Geek Alabama

This week, I wanted to talk about a very unique intersection you will not find anywhere else.  In Alexander City Alabama, there is a traffic light intersection that features two roads, with a train track in the middle.  Both of these roads allows two-way traffic.  The road crossing these two roads and the railroad track is a simple two-way street.  Yes, it’s complicated, take a look at this Google Maps picture below to see for yourself!

city map

The intersection are for the streets of Broad St, Lee St, Washington St, North Central Ave, and South Central Ave.  The intersection also carries AL-63.  The train track in the middle is for the Norfolk Southern line.  And the intersection is just too weird.  If you are on Washington St, Lee St, or Broad St, and if you want to make a turn onto Central Ave. that requires you to cross the train tracks, you have to wait at a protected turn signal.

alex city 044

Some people do not get the concept of this intersection.  And they will turn right or left on red and stop on the middle of the train tracks until they get a green light.  There are no sensors around the train tracks to detect a car sitting there.  And the only way the light will go green for cars stopped on the train tracks is if a car on Central Ave. pulls up to trigger the sensor.  I am surprised no one has been killed at this intersection yet because someone was stopped on the train tracks waiting for the light to change.

alex city 058

Sadly, I don’t think anything can be done at this intersection.  You could eliminate either Lee St. or Washington St. and move the train track over.  But that is going to cost a lot of money.  When the planners of the streets planned the original grid, I guess they were not thinking about how this intersection would cause problems.  Yes, there are some signs saying Do Not Block Intersection, but some drivers still don’t know what to do at this intersection.  Maybe one day something will be done to change the configuration of this intersection.

So there, another weird road feature in the state of Alabama.  If this same intersection was in another state, you would not see something like this!

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