The two projects — one to reconnect Pelham Road at U.S. 431 and one to move West 43rd Street — will keep traffic flowing when the state completes work on the parkway and ties it into U.S. 431, according to Shannon Jones, district manager for the Alabama Department of Transportation.
Pelham Road, which extends northward from the end of Noble Street, previously crossed U.S. 431 and connected to Alabama 21 via an overpass that was removed about a year ago, according to Jones.
Jones said officials hope to open the road for the first time in two years late next week, once workers finish the top layer of paving and the shoulder and complete an inspection for the new traffic signal. It will provide access to U.S. 431 from the Calhoun County Board of Education and an adjacent shopping center, which no longer have direct access to Alabama 21.
West 43rd Street will no longer connect to U.S. 431 and will instead tie in to Whiteside Avenue via a connecting road running along the highway. Sprague Avenue, which currently runs into West 43rd Street, will now also stop at the connecting road.
“We’re having to move those intersections in order to make that connection,” Jones said of the eventual merging of U.S. 431 and the Eastern Bypass, the Department of Transportation’s name for the parkway.
“If you’re driving down 431 from Gadsden, if you stay straight, you’re going to be riding on the Eastern Bypass,” he said.
After the connection of the two major thoroughfares, the segment of U.S. 431 that currently connects to Alabama 21 will be known as Old U.S. 431, Jones said. It will become a crossroad to the bypass near Sprague Avenue.
The project is part of the current phase of work on the parkway — a $29.3 million project that Jones said will see significant cost overruns due to erosion control issues and problems related to default of the contract. He said he expects the current grading and drainage work on the 2.9 miles of unfinished parkway to be complete in late May. After the current phase is complete, he said, the DOT will have to let out the paving phase of the project for bid, which will take about 1 1/2 to 2 years to complete once work is under way.
Mayor Vaughn Stewart said he thinks the completion of the work along U.S. 431 will only have a small effect in the city’s downtown for the short-term, but once the parkway is connected, the effect could be huge.
Besides the oft-touted connection of McClellan to the interstate and potential development, the parkway could create opportunities in the city’s downtown, Stewart said.
Once the new thoroughfare — which could eventually become the new route for U.S. 431— opens, Stewart said it will likely draw much of the through traffic off downtown Quintard Avenue.
“By alleviating some of that heavy traffic on Quintard, I just have to believe it will be more marketable,” Stewart said, noting the potential for easier access to local businesses along the corridor.
“DOT wouldn’t dare change the frequency of those lights on Quintard right now, and we wouldn’t ask them,” he said. But as traffic on Quintard is relieved by the bypass, he added, the time will be right to revisit the traffic lights along this corridor and create a better traffic flow from east to west.
The ultimate goal, he said, is to create a culture shift in the downtown, diverting traffic to other avenues and making Noble Street more pedestrian- and bicycle-friendly.
“Sooner or later things come together,” he said. “Before you know it, you think you’re in a big town.”
Staff writer Paige Rentz: 256-235-3564. On Twitter @PRentz_Star.