Cecil Ashburn Drive Improvement Project
Updated October 18, 2019
This 3.4-mile road project will widen Cecil Ashburn Drive, from two to four lanes, to accommodate increased traffic capacity and incorporate safety improvements. The project will also improve Sutton Road between Taylor Road and Old Big Cove Road to accommodate five lanes. To complete this project safely and quickly, all lanes of Cecil Ashburn Drive, between Old Big Cove Road and Donegal Drive were closed for construction until two lanes of traffic were safely restored.
The City of Huntsville’s goal is to finish these improvements as quickly as possible in hopes to restore travel on a safer, quicker and higher capacity route that connects East Huntsville’s Big Cove/Hampton Cove to Downtown Huntsville, Redstone Arsenal, Cummings Research Park and beyond.
Bids were received in May 2018 with the intent to begin construction during summer after the school year was complete. The project bid cost came in significantly over budget with the majority of the overrun associated with the proposed traffic control plan which would allow one lane of intermittent travel (by escort) during peak weekday hours only, approximately 3 hours per weekday, with the roadway remaining closed the majority of the construction duration (30-32 months). Full roadway closure for extended periods of time would be necessary during blasting operations for safety reasons. The maintenance of this traffic control plan extended the project duration to approximately 30-32 months.
The City of Huntsville rebid the project with a revised plan to close the road during Phase I to allow the contractor to complete the project as quickly as possible. The rebid was performed in November 2018 with a Notice to Proceed Issued to the Contractor on January 7, 2019. The rebid provided a savings of approximately $7 million dollars and shortened the construction timeline from 32 to 18 months, with incentives and disincentives in place to reopen the road to two-way traffic to the public within 12-months. The contractor was able to complete Phase I in less than 10 months.
Work remains on Sutton Road, Old Big Cove Road and primarily within the westbound lanes of Cecil Ashburn. Sutton Road will have 5-lanes when complete and Old Big Cove will have double left turns heading westbound as well as an extended right turn tapers. The remaining work on Cecil Ashburn consists of finishing utility installation, drainage construction, slope stabilization and asphalt paving. The contractor will also install the final open-graded friction course asphalt layer and permanent striping and signage on all lanes next Spring as the westbound lanes are completed. The remaining work will be temperature and weather dependent.
Cecil Ashburn was selected to be part of the Restore our Road program in 2014 as an important roadway connection poised for future growth for surrounding communities to the east. Cecil Ashburn was originally designed as a 4-lane road, however, only 2-lanes were constructed in 1998 due to cost. Upon its completion in 2001, it was highly used to connect Big Cove. Due to the tremendous growth in that area, the roadway is currently over capacity. The current traffic counts are approx. 17,000 vehicles per day, while the future projected traffic modeling shows an increase in traffic counts to approx. 30,000 vehicles per day by the year 2040.
If widening was not performed, and traffic increased by 75% as projected, the community would have had an issue with congestion for this important corridor. With its ease of access to South Huntsville and Redstone Arsenal for commuters from the east, Cecil Ashburn Drive was improved to maintain safe traffic flow. It has been determined that the two additional lanes are needed to accommodate the traffic volumes.
While surveying the existing roadway, it was noted that some adjacent areas have been over blasted in the previous project. Taking advantage of this, the City will be realigning the roadway to use the areas to minimize the scope and construction duration. Additional safety measures have also been considered in the design and construction of the road. The project will build a 6-inch raised concrete island with a 4-foot paved shoulder between the opposing travel lanes to help reduce crossover traffic accidents. The project will also install a high-friction wearing surface on the roadway with additional drainage features to reduce hydroplaning. The project will reinstall an 8-foot paved shoulder on each side of the roadway that can be used for bicycle travel. Also, U-turn locations will be constructed near the top of the mountain to accommodate emergency responders and provide access to the nature trail to include an improved parking area at this location.
The initial bid in May 2018 was over budget at $24.7 million with a lengthier timeline of over 30 months. This high project cost and the lengthy timeline was primarily due to the original ask for contractors to keep one lane of travel open intermittently for 2 – 3 hours per business day, with the road closed during the majority of the time to allow contractors to perform work. One lane of traffic available at intermittent and limited times of day would have allowed the passage of very few cars and posed safety risks for contractors and commuters alike.
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
For more information about the project scope, the City of Huntsville answers the following commonly asked questions:
ALDOT resurfaced approximately five miles of Governors Drive Road, between Basset and Old Big Cove, in April/May 2019 to improve road conditions and safety. The work was performed at night, from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m., and ALDOT assured the City their crews will only grade and resurface sections of the road that can be reopened daily. Only partial closures of single lanes occurred at night, allowing Governors Drive to be accessible during the resurfacing work.
The reason this portion of the roadway is currently congested is that there is a bottleneck where the two westbound lanes merge down to a single westbound lane. This also includes the single westbound lane approach to the traffic signal. The bottleneck currently “meters” the traffic, with the lane drop and traffic signal. If only this section of Sutton Road is widened, the bottleneck would just move further west along Cecil Ashburn, or wherever the lanes are merged together once again. Also, from a constructability perspective, it would take approximately 9 months to widen the easternmost section between US 431 and Old Big Cove causing major traffic delays due to the elevation difference needed at this location. We are concurrently constructing these improvements with improvements to Cecil Ashburn, therefore, eliminating the need to close the road again in the future for a separate project later.
We sincerely share this concern and understand the importance of economic impacts within our community. A construction start date in January 2019 could also help alleviate congestion during the holiday season. Cost incentives were given to the Contractor to further expedite construction duration in an effort to finish the project within one year. In an effort to further consider our economic impacts, we included this project in the Restore our Roads funding agreement which ALDOT is responsible for half of the project cost, therefore saving additional City funds for other local projects.
A roundabout was not fully analyzed due to the site conditions at Old Big Cove/Sutton do not conform to a roundabout application. A two-lane roundabout would be needed, and due to (1) the unbalanced flow of traffic from each direction, and (2) the downhill grade and additional right-of-way needed for such construction, the roundabout option would not be a safe alternative for the project. We did take a close look at this intersection and came up with double left turn lanes from Old Big Cove to Cecil Ashburn and designated right turn lane from Cecil Ashburn to Old Big Cove to help improve the function of this intersection.
Our goal for this project remains the same – to complete the project as quickly as possible in hopes to restore travel on an improved, safer and quicker route.