Driving under the caution flag

By Curt Chapman
Staff Writer
Posted 5/10/07

As the new Wal-Mart east of Fairhope edges closer to completion, traffic concerns are being addressed. The retail giant is required as part of its traffic plan to help improve intersections at and near the site of the store, which is expected to …

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Driving under the caution flag

Posted

As the new Wal-Mart east of Fairhope edges closer to completion, traffic concerns are being addressed. The retail giant is required as part of its traffic plan to help improve intersections at and near the site of the store, which is expected to open this summer. But, as is the case with any project involving a busy roadway, traffic delays are inevitable, especially during rush hour.

“We make them do work that will hopefully alleviate that,” said Nick Amberger, maintenance engineer with the Alabama Department of Transportation Ninth Division. “When it gets to us at the permitting standpoint, it’s something we require of them.”

Among the work now under way — a contractor hired by Wal-Mart is currently adding a southbound right turn lane on Alabama Highway 181 at County Road 44. The state is responsible for adding a northbound left turn lane and a traffic signal at the intersection, Amberger said. At the point County Road 32 intersects 181, Wal-Mart is funding a northbound left turn lane and a southbound left turn lane. The state will install the traffic signal at that intersection as well.

“All 181 improvements so far have been made on the dime of developers,” he said. “We don’t just let them come in there and turn the world upside down.”

Amberger said much of the work being paid for by Wal-Mart should wrap up in a month or so. The state will begin its share of the project “closer to the middle of end of the summer,” he added.

Most visible, perhaps, is work being done near Wal-Mart at County Road 48 (also known as Fairhope Avenue). Amberger said new traffic signals at the intersection and near the store’s main entrance to the south won’t be activated until work on the roadway is mostly complete. They will, however, be tested in about a month to determine if the timing is correct.

“The engineering is required on the front end, and we make them put out there what’s needed within reason,” he said.

Amberger said once done, the improvements should help traffic flow. All comments he’s received so far have been positive.

During this phase, he said, everyone should obey all orange signs and maintain a safe speed as they move through posted construction zones. He added, “They’re there for very specific reasons. Imagine you’re out there working. Slow down and be very cautious.” Under state law, fines for speeding are doubled in such areas.

Other work planned for 181 prior to it being eventually widened to four lanes includes a traffic signal at Lawson Road near Daphne High School and a traffic signal at Pleasant Road. Wal-Mart will pay for a new eastbound turn lane on 181 at Alabama Highway 104, and the retailer at the state will work together to widen the intersection at County Road 30, including a traffic signal and northbound and southbound turn lanes.

“If you see things widened or hear it may be widened, there’s a reason,” Amberger said.