Friday, November 04, 2011

Highway 280 Corridor Transit Study Open House Nov. 9, 2011

[update, Nov. 7: the RPCGB has a little more info on the open house. An agenda has been posted, as well.]

U.S. 280 Corridor Transit Study Open House, Wed., Nov. 9
When logging into the CommuteSmart website to log my carpool commutes, there was a notice for an Open House to discuss the possible alternatives for transit service along U.S. 280. The open house will take place Wed., Nov. 9, 2011, from 3-7pm, at the Marriott Hotel, 3590 Grandview ParkwayBirmingham, AL.

Although I am a resident of Hoover, AL, I avoid Highway 280 as much as humanly possible. The congestion is legendary. You'll find the traffic bad even outside the typical rush hour times. However, I realize there are many people who use the highway out of necessity. I'm very interested to see if we (Alabama) can solve this problem the right way, the first time.

The problem
"280" by Wally Argus
Highway 280 is Alabama's 2nd busiest roadway. In 2004, the Regional Planning Commission of Greater Birmingham (RPCGB) asked UAB to study several proposed solutions to the 280 congestion problem. The computer analysis was performed in 2005 by the University Transportation Center for Alabama in conjunction with the Birmingham MPO and the ALDOT. Of all the solutions analyzed, urban interchanges helped the most. However, only seven minutes would be shaved due to the grinding halt at the narrow Hwy 280 to Red Mountain Expressway transition. That problem is a difficult one to solve. You can't widen the overpass through Red Mountain, and you would eventually run into congestion problems as more traffic hits each exit ramp and eventually runs into I-20/59. 

The toll bridge
Elevated toll bridge as proposed by Figg
In September 2005, then-governor Riley invited the three co-chairs of Progress 280 Task Force to a closed meeting in his office[1]. There, Linda Figg (of Figg Engineers, Inc.) presented a concept of (guess what?) an elevated roadway. According to FIGG's website, they "specialize exclusively in bridges"[2]. I don't know how Figg obtained an audience with Riley, but that wasn't even the first elevated road idea. A study was conducted in 1997 by HNTB where Blaise Carriere proposed a 10-mile split elevated pair of 2-lane roadways. It was one of three options that would provide adequate capacity. 

Elevated toll bridge as proposed by Figg
Progress 280 was part of the Regional Growth Alliance, a now defunct group which was comprised of Region 2020, Inc. (a citizen-driven, non-profit corporation that attempts to guide regional visioning), the Regional Planning Commission of Greater Birmingham (a publicly sponsored regional council to "promote regional excellence and community development"), and the Birmingham Regional Chamber of Commerce (a privately sponsored group that seeks to create a unified voice for area businesses in promoting development - in 2009 it merged with Region 2020 Inc. & the Metropolitan Development Board and was renamed the Birmingham Business Alliance).

Elevated toll bridge as proposed by Figg
In June 2006, at Riley's request, Progress 280 hired Figg's firm to complete a design study for an elevated tollway along 280's median.[3] Progress 280 liked the plan and conducted meetings with ALDOT to present the new plan to the public.[4] Although there were well reasoned objections to both an elevated road as well as to a tollway, the only compromise made by ALDOT was to change the plans so that the elevated tollway would only be on the portion east/south of I-459. Ever since the Figg proposal, an elevated tollway (in some form) has always been the number one option on ALDOT's table, until they finally halted work on it on March 11, 2011 due to opposition by citizens and businesses and rejection from city governments.

A better alternative

Interchange in ReThink280 plan
A number of citizens, businesses, and cities have united behind a ReThink280 plan[5], developed by Walter Kulash, that includes toll-free express lanes, local lanes, and ground-level solutions for local access. 

I think the ReThink280 proposal offers a few benefits over the elevated toll bridge plan:
  1. Cost reduction in both upfront construction and long term maintenance.
  2. 4 end-to-end express lanes, without traffic lights, turning movements or tolls from downtown to Eagle Point.
  3. 2 (or more) local lanes added, controlled by traffic signals and connecting to all existing cross streets.
  4. Ground-level grade separations (compact local interchanges and high-capacity split diamond interchanges, with the express lanes travelling under the interchanges).
  5. Use of existing properties.
  6. No worries of sink holes collapsing the bridge.
Sinkhole in Tampa [credit: Skip O'Rourke]
What's missing?
There are two problems not addressed by either the ALDOT plan or the ReThink280 plan:
  1. The connection from 280 to downtown Birmingham via the Red Mountain Expressway is a current bottleneck. If even more traffic were enabled along 280, that bottleneck will grind to a halt. What is the answer? A wider (ironically, elevated) highway (280/31/Red Mountain Express/Elton B. Stephens Expressway) from Red Mountain to I-20/59 (even though there's a proposal to replace the elevated interstate through downtown with one on the ground)? Better interchanges at the exit ramps? 
  2. Birmingham needs mass public transit in some form, whether it be bus, light rail, etc., for future growth and public movement. 
The U.S. 280 Corridor Transit Study was scheduled to be completed in October 2011 and will analyze 1) the enhancement of local bus service 2) premium bus service with queue jump lanes 3) premium bus service with 2 managed lanes in each direction & 4) bus rapid transit.

This open house is for public discussion of the study that has been completed.

Open House
If you live and/or work near the metro Birmingham area, or you just want to learn about the transit alternatives and/or give feedback, I recommend going to the meeting on Wednesday.

When searching for more information on the open house, I couldn't find anything at the transit study's website, any of the city websites, the RPCGB, BBA, or CommuteSmart websites. 

[Update, 11/7] The agenda states that a presentation will be given 15 minutes past the hour (i.e. 3:15, 4:15, 5:15, & 6:15) with time for questions & comments by attendees after each presentation. This was designed to be as flexible as possible to allow people to go and learn about the project and provide feedback.

Here is the notice once logged into CommuteSmart:


US 280 Corridor Transit Study

The Regional Planning Commission of Greater Birmingham invites you to an Open House to discuss the possible alternatives for transit service along U.S. 280 from I-20/I-59 in Downtown Birmingham to the Shelby/Talladega County Line. The Open House will allow people to come and learn about the progress of the transit study, give their comments, and participate in opinion surveys about transit alternatives and the potential funding sources for constructing and operating the service. Information displays, opinion surveys, and opportunities for public comment will be featured.

Wed. November 9, 2011 
3 pm to 7 pm
Marriott Hotel
3590 Grandview Parkway
Birmingham, Alabama

[1] Progress 280 whitepaper (2006-11-10 version) Progress 280 whitepaper (2006-11-17)
[3] (page 4-87)
[5] (as presented to the Hoover City Council in 2010)

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