Located in the center of Huntsville is the Redstone Arsenal, a U.S. Army installation. According to a military website, the arsenal is 38,250 acres and is home to 800 active-duty soldiers and more than 40,000 civilian and contract employees. It was established in 1941 and combined two adjoining arsenals. Redstone is the Army's center for missile and rocket programs. The website notes important units located at the arsenal include U.S. Army Materiel Command, Army Aviation, and Missile Command, the Defense Department’s Missile Defense Agency, plus the NASA Marshall Space Flight Center, and a growing FBI center. Around 100,000 indirect jobs are supported by arsenal programs within the community.
To diversify the city, Mayor Battle developed a strategic plan focused on attracting industry to the area. Since then, companies including Toyota, Mazda, Polaris, Blue Ridge, and Amazon have established footholds in Huntsville. Of course, employees and services have also come to the area with the businesses. All this activity has led to the city engaging in multiple infrastructure projects.
In addition to expanding the highway, the team is replacing a bridge. The new six-lane bridge, which is at Old Madison Pike, includes 10 feet of multi-use paths on each side to accommodate pedestrians and cyclists. “We added the multiuse paths to accommodate different modes of transportation because one side of the bridge is a residential area and the other side includes a large research park and retail,” says Kathy Martin, City Engineer for Huntsville.
A second new bridge is also being built at the existing on-ramp from Bradford Drive. The project includes a new off-ramp at Mid City Drive which leads directly to the Mid City District and a new city amphitheater, The Orion Amphitheater. Mid City is a mixed-use district that includes, retail, residential, and office spaces adjacent to a new 8,000 seat amphitheater.
During phase one, the team is putting in the additional lanes in the center of SR 255, reconstructing the north half of the bridge at Old Madison Pike, a new bridge at Bradford Drive, removing an old ramp, and constructing a new ramp to Mid City.
During phase two, the other half of the Madison Pike bridge is being replaced while traffic is switched to the newly completed north side. The barrier wall along SR 255 will then be connected to the center bridge bent and the traffic will be switched to the new center lanes while the outside lanes are widened. Finally, new sign bridges, paving, striping can be installed.
“To accommodate for the work, traffic patterns had to be changed to minimize congestion backing up on the interstate,” Martin says. The team did the paving at night and worked on half of the bridge at a time. They would demo and then transfer traffic.
Besides the challenges related to traffic control, there were issues with the bridge abutments. “Once the contractor drove piles, they found poor rock quality that would not offer sufficient support,” Martin says, “so the bridge abutments had to be redesigned during construction.”
Since the project was bid in 2019, Reed Contracting was bought out by Rogers Group. “The same people who began the project continued, and there were no significant changes despite the company change,” Martin says.
Construction began in the spring of 2020. The original expected completion date was the end of 2021. However, the challenges related to the bridge redesign pushed back the completion date to June 2022.
The project cost is $23.5 million and it is currently on budget. The Alabama Department of Transportation and Huntsville are equally splitting the funding of the project.
To pay for this project and seven other local projects, Mayor Battle went to the State in 2014 and proposed a cost-share. “We were able to fund eight local highway projects by offering to fund 50 percent of the project costs,” Martin says. She states that Huntsville funded their share of the $250 million roadway package by raising local sales tax by 1 percent.
Upon completion of the project, Huntsville area commuters will experience reduced travel times. They will have greater access to the interstate, Mid City, and the new amphitheater. The future plan for this roadway, according to Martin, is to extend the road and make a ring around the city. Huntsville is growing and the city is working hard to ensure the infrastructure can manage the growth.