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Indianapolis, IN, USA (HQ)

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SR 180 Widening Creates Better Access to Orange Beach

by: Larry Bernstein
SR 180 near Orange Beach in Alabama is being widened to accommodate future increases in tourist traffic.
SR 180 near Orange Beach in Alabama is being widened to accommodate future increases in tourist traffic.
Alabama’s Orange Beach is situated on the state’s Gulf Coast. With its miles of attractive beaches, quality restaurants, and opportunities for fishing, the town is a popular tourist destination. Getting to and from Orange Beach, however, can be a challenge. The Alabama Department of Transportation (ALDOT) is engaged in the SR 180/Canal Road widening project to help reduce traffic issues.
Planning for the Future
Traffic in and around Orange Beach is expected to grow. In 2018, the average daily traffic for the section of the road where the project is occurring was 18,000. By 2039, that number is expected to more than double to 36,200.  In order to keep traffic flowing at a reasonable rate, it was clear that the route needed to be expanded.

The widening will take place over 2.3 miles of westbound roadway. Currently, this portion of roadway is a four-lane highway. One lane is for westbound traffic, while there are two eastbound lanes and a center two-way left turn lane.

“The roadway often becomes congested as it is a major artery used by motorists to access the public beaches, condos, parks, shopping, restaurants, and marinas,” said Katelyn Turner, a Public Information Office with ALDOT. “The delays could add possibly over an hour to the travel time especially on Thursdays and Fridays when many head to the beach,” Turner noted the back-ups begin during the spring months when spring breakers flock to the beaches and then last throughout the late summer.

ALDOT is adding a lane to SR 180. Upon completion, the road will be a five-lane highway with two lanes of travel in each direction and a designated center two-way left turn lane along with 6-foot shoulders. Other minor work items for the project include grading, paving, placing stripe/markings, signal improvements, installing 10 pipe crossings, and installing a storm drain.

The goal of the project is clear. “This project is expected to improve traffic flow by adding capacity to provide some relief to the traffic congestion experienced by tourists and locals alike,” said Jen Eubanks Assistant Construction Engineer for ALDOT’s Southwest Region.

Seasonal Traffic Challenges
Locals and tourists heavily travel the road year-round. However, as noted above, during the warm weather months, the road is even more congested, so ALDOT is sensitive about traffic impacts.
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“Lengthy lane closures would add further delays to an already congested route,” says Eubanks.

Therefore, the route is open while work is proceeding.

As part of the contract, the contractor has been widening and paving SR 180 in sections of 1,000 foot increments. “Crews implemented short lane closures when widening, paving, and installing drainage in order to keep the roadway as open as possible to motorists and also kept at least one lane open in each direction at all times,” says Eubanks.

To safely accomplish this, a flagging operation has been put in place. It allows bi-directional traffic to flow while the contractor open cuts one side of the roadway to install the drainage crossings before switching to the other side. Many of the pipe crossings were installed during the off-peak season so there was not as much traffic on the road or a need to push this work to nighttime hours.

Since tourists are a major part of the traffic on the route, and they are less familiar with the area, accurate information conveyance and proper signage is important. Message boards, signage, and traffic cones and barrels to keep live traffic aware of the changing conditions through the work zone.

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In addition, ALDOT has utilized Twitter and newsletters to let the public know ahead of time when a lane closure will be in place or if they can expect a shift in the traffic pattern. “We aim to give motorists plenty of advance notice about what they can expect in the work zone which in turn helps keep them and contractor crews safe,” said Turner.

Finally, the contractor and project staff has been diligent to communicate with the local entities when necessary. “They prioritize traffic control efforts and provide accurate information to minimize confusion amongst the numerous lane configurations and traffic shifts required. Having a strong local partner in the City of Orange Beach has helped make the project a success and is key to any large roadway project such as this,” said Eubanks.

Good Communication Keeps the Schedule in Check
The project began in the fall of 2019 and is expected to be complete in December. Eubanks credits good communication for allowing the project to proceed on schedule. “Maintaining good communication between project manager, inspection staff, contractor personnel, local entities, and utility companies has been key to finding and mitigating issues quickly,” said Eubanks.

One revision to the plan led to a conflict between the utilities that would have not only delayed the project but caused significant impacts to the roadway and traffic.  Because of the good communication on the team, they were able to overcome this issue, by developing an alternative roadway buildup design. The new design “eliminated some, if not all, of undercut in those areas, which allowed for most of the utilities to be accommodated without major disruption,” said Eubanks.

The project has a $7.3 million budget. Funding for the project is coming primarily from the federal government (80 percent) while the local government is picking up the remaining 20 percent. The project is on budget so far. Eubanks says this is “due to efficient use of materials and equipment.”

Upon completion of the widening project, this stretch of SR 180 will have a capacity increase. “This will aid in the relief of traffic delays and congestion, which in turn will make it easier for drivers to access the many businesses and eateries along this route,” said Turner. “We look forward to motorists having a quicker, safer, and smoother trip to and from the Orange Beach area.”

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