GROWING PAINS // BIG IMPROVEMENTS TO BE MADE ON MCFARLAND // REMOVING THE BOTTLENECKS

As most people who live in Tuscaloosa know, the traffic can get nerve wracking at times. Trying to drive down McFarland at five in the afternoon will usually result in having to stop at half of the the traffic lights you encounter, and fighting to cross lanes of congested traffic. Over the years, the city of Tuscaloosa has seen more and more drivers, and with the University of Alabama reporting higher enrollment numbers year after year, this doesn’t seem to show any sign of slowing down.
The Alabama Department of Transportation is planning on breaking ground this year on 11.2 miles of roadwork that will stretch from Rose Boulevard in Northport all the way to Jug Factory Road in Tuscaloosa. ALDOT proposes that the changes are expected to result in 10 percent capacity increase for US 82/McFarland as well as a 15 percent decrease in travel time. The project is estimated to last between 12 and 15 months, which means it should be completed towards the end of 2016.
The aim of the approximately $20 million project is to relieve congestion on McFarland by changing how traffic signals function and by improving how people can access the road. To improve access management, several changes will be made to medians and turning lanes.
The majority of median crossovers along US 82 will either be removed or converted into one-direction turning lanes. Brad Darden, pre-construction engineer for ALDOT based in Tuscaloosa, says that an open median has up to 32 conflict points, meaning that there are multiple opportunities for a vehicle to get in to an accident. By adding directional turning lanes, the risk of an accident will greatly decrease. Having designated-left-turning lanes instead of wide, open medians will mean less congestion, since drivers will have the opportunity to merge into traffic instead of idling in the median while waiting for a chance to turn or cross. Removing median crossovers will also encourage drivers to make u-turns at signals, which is less dangerous than attempting a turn at one of the many currently existing medians without signals.
Darden also emphasizes that minimal to no right-of way is going to be needed, as the changes to lanes will be made by using existing pavement, rather than adding completely new lanes.
“The point is maximizing efficiency instead of just adding all new lanes, which would be more expensive,” Darden said.
One example of this will be the addition of a left turning lane on McFarland for I-59. The currently existing single turning lane is constantly backed up and a major contribution to traffic congestion. By 2016, not only will there be two turning lanes instead of one, but they will be longer than the original, meaning more space for cars wanting to merge on to the interstate, leaving more room for drivers trying to get by. Darden also said that the current plan intends on extending the connectivity of service roads, meaning that in some areas drivers won’t always have to get back on US 82 to go from one place to the next.
Another major change being made is the upgrade of technology used by traffic signals. Three traffic signals along the 11 mile stretch will be removed all together, while the remaining 26 will be upgraded from using a timer to using adaptive signal control technology. Darden explains that this means the signals will communicate to one another and make adjustments based on the amount of traffic, rather than operating on a timer system. By constantly making adjustments, drivers will no longer experience the aggravation of catching every single red light. While this new technology doesn’t mean you’ll never get a red light again, it does mean you will catch significantly less, therefore making your commute that much easier.
Although the majority of the road work will be done on nights and weekends, these changes could ultimately affect businesses all along US 82. In order to answer any questions business and property owners had concerning the plan, ALDOT sent out almost 800 letters informing them of the project and held a public involvement meeting.
“We also set up one on one meetings with businesses who still had questions or concerns, showed detailed maps and attempted to answer all questions as best as possible,” Darden said.
Some businesses along US 82 are concerned that the year-long road work will affect their amount of customers. Kurt Grammer, general manger at Moe’s Southwest Grill located on McFarland, is among those who are concerned that road work will hurt business. Grammer thinks that lack of accessibility and the headache of driving through construction will cause potential customers to eat somewhere more convenient. Although he has concerns about the road work slowing business down, he does agree that the overall end result will be positive.
“Things can’t stay the way they are, especially with the new shopping center at 15th Street being built,” Grammer said. “I think that after the road work is done, it will make things easier and help out our business.”
Grammer uses the term “growing pains” to describe the slump they may see during construction. While the initial road work may cause some business to slow down and may annoy those making their commute, in the end the changes being made will make traveling down US 82/ McFarland Boulevard easier for everyone.

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