Orange barrels, neon yellow vests and white hardhats have returned to Beltline Road as crews begin a $13 million project to finish widening the state highway to six lanes.
The final phase will stretch about three miles through the most populated portion of Decatur’s arterial loop — from U.S. 31 to Danville Road. It will entail the widening of one bridge and demolition and reconstruction of another.
On Thursday, Huntsville subcontractors Miller and Miller lined traffic barrels along the southbound railroad overpass bridge near Central Parkway. The Alabama Department of Transportation soon will shift southbound traffic onto the shoulder while crews widen the bridge, said Chris Estes, Morgan County engineer with ALDOT’s Division 2.
“The plan is to keep both lanes open while the widening work is being done, but the speed will be reduced, probably down to 25 mph,” Estes said. “It will be similar to what we did with Phase 2 at the north end.”
Phase 2 widened the Beltline from Old Moulton Road to Alabama 20 and should be complete by Dec. 1, he said. One railroad bridge was widened there and a second torn down and rebuilt in similar fashion. Paving, signage and median work is under way. Estes said a portion of Alabama 20 near Beltline will be repaved.
Phase 3 will impede traffic for two years on the road, used by as many as 38,000 vehicles daily. Decatur officials urge local drivers to avoid the area. Detour maps are being distributed to industries and trucking companies, Community and Economic Development Director Wally Terry said.
Once the southbound overpass bridge is widened to six lanes, northbound traffic will be detoured onto it while crews demolish and rebuild the northbound bridge, Estes said. The directional traffic will be separated by concrete dividers for safety, he said.
“At times there will be some lane blockage,” Estes said. “But for the most part, all four lanes of traffic, two each way, will be open, but just with a slower speed limit.”
The preparations come as roadwork winds down on U.S. 31, north and south of the Beltline, to add turning lanes and a traffic signal at the Market Shoppes retail development. The signal was installed this week near Kangaroo gas station but will not be used until next month, City Engineer Mark Petersohn said.
“It will flash for a while first before going fully operational,” Petersohn said.
He said the U.S. 31 work is 90 percent complete.
ALDOT began the widening project a decade ago with Phase 1, between Danville and Old Moulton roads. Beltline was originally a wide-open, two-lane highway in sparsely developed southwest Decatur before it was widened to four lanes in 1978. The addition of several traffic signals at residential cross streets initially caused confusion among residents and was blamed for several wrecks.
The growth of industries along the Tennessee River led to more tractor-trailers jockeying for space alongside local traffic, creating stop-and-go congestion at rush hours. Officials lobbied for a detour around Beltline, dubbed the “Outer Beltline,” which could be funded with toll fees, before deciding in the late 1990s to pursue funding for a second widening.
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