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Counties Address Highway Congestion Through Collaboration, Planning, Investment

Updated: Apr 22

Over the last couple of months, announcements for significant improvements to major roadways have been made in neighboring Madison County as well as Shelby County. Details released about the projects emphasize the need for a new approach in how we address our own highway congestion here in Marshall County. Both projects seek to address congestion by increasing capacity, have been in the planning stages for many years, and are the result of partnerships forged between state, city, and county leaders.

Local officials in Madison County are partnering with the state to improve interchanges on Interstate 565 and Memorial Pkwy (US Hwy 431/231), to widen US Hwy 72 and AL Hwy 53, and add a new connector to Redstone Arsenal from the city of Madison. Leaders in Shelby County are collaborating to widen AL Hwy 261 from two lanes to five lanes through the cities of Hoover, Pelham, and Helena.

According to officials with ALDOT, the Shelby County plan was first proposed 15 years ago. The Madison County plan was developed several years ago and some portions of it could take another decade to become reality. Each of these areas uses a Metropolitan Planning Organization for transportation infrastructure development.

An MPO is established by the Governor in urbanized areas having a municipality with over 50,000 people and are tasked with developing and managing a continuing, comprehensive transportation plan cooperatively with the state and local municipalities. The organization’s short-term plan represents the upcoming 5 years of upgrades to state and federal highways while their long-term plan addresses at least a 20-year outlook, sometimes more.

Every MPO brings together federal and state officials, ALDOT engineers, county chairmen, mayors, city councilmen, community planners and other stakeholders. Our neighbor to the south, Etowah County, established their MPO in the 1960’s. They have an interstate and bypass as well as multiple four lane and one six lane highway. It’s worth noting that according to a recent study by the University of Alabama Business School, Marshall County is projected to be larger than Etowah County by 2035.

Our county is unique in many ways, one of which is the disbursement of our cities. One could argue that even now our size demands the creation of an MPO and if the population of Guntersville, Albertville and Boaz were combined the 50,000-threshold required is nearly reached. But do we really have to wait for the Census Bureau or Governor to tell us Marshall County needs a transportation plan?

We are struggling with congestion issues already that will only get worse as population and tourism continue to grow and economic development increases. If we’re going to solve these problems and address current and future capacity on our major roadways, we must get serious about planning by forming our own local transportation planning organization.

As Marshall County Commission Chairman, I would take the lead by bringing together our mayors, council members, county engineer, city planners, legislative delegation and ALDOT officials to form a group with the goal of developing and managing a continuing, comprehensive, and collaborative short and long-term transportation plan for our community.

Our first task would be to identify and implement solutions that can relieve pressure and improve traffic flow immediately. One initial step could be to install traffic signals with Smart technology. Equipment that can be easily controlled and most importantly share and respond to road conditions in real-time would keep traffic moving through the most congested areas.

Focus would then shift to identifying and improving alternative routes to our main corridors. This could include adding lanes to other state, county, and city roads, improving or constructing bridges, and creating or updating intersections. One improvement could be an upgraded bridge over Short Creek on Hustleville Road. Increased weight capacity and widening would turn this into a viable alternative route for many industries and could mean hundreds of trucks per day no longer have to travel through the most congested areas. Another possibility is widening Hwy 205 to four lanes from Guntersville all the way through to Etowah County. This would be a viable alternative to many residents as a parallel to Hwy 431.

The final lesson from our neighboring counties and others that are finding solutions to their roadway congestion issues is that each entity must be willing to invest in the plan if it will ever become reality. Madison County along with the cities of Madison and Huntsville have committed to pay nearly 40% of the cost of improvements to federal and state highways in their plan. Shelby County along with the cities of Hoover, Pelham and Helena have all committed $675,000 each toward the widening of their state highway.

Marshall County is already the 13th largest county in the state and still growing. Congestion on our state and federal highways is not the problem of one or two cities. Gridlock on our major roadways affects us all and finding solutions will benefit everyone. This is a challenge we must face as a county—together. A proactive approach to transportation planning and a commitment from state, county and city leaders to not only develop short and long-term solutions but fund them is the only way to successfully serve the infrastructure needs of our industries, small businesses and citizens.

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