The drama surrounding the fate of Cecil Ashburn Drive – a 3.6-mile long scenic mountain stretch on the side of Green Mountain that connects Jones Valley to the Cove – has concluded its first chapter. In a statement released yesterday, the city announced its current revised plan to close the Cecil Ashburn corridor for 12 solid months starting in 2019 following initial prep work. During that year, it is set to undergo a major expansion aimed at alleviating morning and afternoon congestion that is only expected to increase as Huntsville maintains its meteoric growth and families continue to claim the Cove as their home.
Originally, the city proposed a plan to accomodate intermittent weekday commuting, allowing passage out in the mornings and in during afternoons during the construction period. However, this resulted in a longer construction period of 2-3 years and bids from construction companies exceeded orginal budgets. Thus, the total-closure plan emerged. Any change is of course a cause for concern for the region's many stakeholders. So, here we have six alternatives that may be worth pondering:
- Do Nothing: Like many areas with a high proportion of work and school commuters, delays from congestion are only an issue for small percentage of the day. These delays occur primarily on Sutton Road and approaching the intersection of Old Big Cove Rd. The entire corridor may not need capacity upgrades for many more years, and the pain from a shutdown is sure to impact families and businesses on both sides. Still, crashes are a problem that ought to be addressed.
- Improve Transit: Measures like vanpools and flextime could be low-hanging fruit that would reduce the number of cars on the road at a time. And, according to Jennifer Nelson, Cove resident and transportation planner, "in coordination with the City or MPO, employers could implement and incentivize ridesharing opportunities and other congestion-reduction techniques that make better use of our existing infrastructure."
- Improve Sutton Road: What if the majority of the Cecil Ashburn corridor itself is capable of handling the current and future traffic for a number of years, but an intersection instead is the culprit? Widening the remainder of Sutton Rd and increasing the intersection capacity at Old Big Cove could be relatively quick and less expensive than prematurely 4-laning the entirety of Cecil Ashburn. Keeping the traffic from bottlenecking as it enters the Cove could create major gains in terms of flow for much less cost.
- Improve Structure: Some very easy add-ons, like railing and dividers, could reduce the frequency and severity of certain types of crashes. Various safety improvements such as a median barrier or more guard rails can be implemented regardless of the number of travel lanes. These improvements, too, are relatively inexpensive.
- Build a School: There's no denying that driving to work during June and July is much easier. But when school starts, the addition of students (many of whom are less-experienced) causes congestion and accidents. Building a much-needed high school in the Cove would not only reduce the number of drivers traversing Governors, but also increase property values. While the city must wait for federal approval to construct a public high school, even a small private school would be welcomed by families with kids curently attending the two elementary and one middle schools.
- Dig a Tunnel: This may be a boring option, but a tunnel would reduce the commute between Jones Valley and the Cove to 2.5 miles making it a quick 5-minute trek. Sure, granite may be expensive to blast through, but the Cove can crowdfund it!
While no single alternative laid out here may be a suitable solution, could a combination create an accord among the City, Cove residents, and Cove businesses? We hope to foster a constructive dialogue with city engineers and planners before any decisions are final. If you would like to help guide the Cove's future and grow the Cove smartly, we would appreciate your support – please consider being a sponsor. Email us to learn more.
Special thanks to Cove resident and transportation planner Jennifer Nelson, PE, AICP, and all the concerned Cove residents that commented on our page as news and updates emerged. Stay tuned for more about the Cecil Ashburn project, including planning and transit studies happening now, resources needed should a year-long closure occur, and other opportunities.