The growing pains of progress are nowhere more obvious than during the morning and evening commute.
As soon as one road project ends, another begins.
The good news is the long-debated, long-delayed and long-undertaken widening of Spring Avenue is almost complete. According to Allen Teague of the Alabama Department of Transportation, the $11 million project should be finished and the roadway striped in January. That should give commuters on one of Decatur’s major thoroughfares a happy new year indeed.
Yet as one road project finally ends, others ramp up. One of the largest will widen Interstate 565 from Interstate 65 east to Wall Triana Highway.
That is just the latest road improvement linked to the Mazda Toyota Manufacturing USA plant under construction in Limestone County.
The plant, which plans to hire 4,000 employees, has set production to begin in 2021, so the clock is ticking.
I-565 widening toward Huntsville, however, is only half the picture.
Last week, the Decatur-area Metropolitan Planning Organization approved funding for the other half, resurfacing Alabama 20 from U.S. 31 to I-565. That $1.1 million project ($885,957 federal, $221,489 state) is scheduled to get underway next year.
The upshot is the main artery connecting Decatur with Huntsville will soon be a traffic nightmare, which is what many people think it is already.
Yet, as with Spring Avenue, we must look at the long run: Once the project is finished, it should for a time help alleviate some of the existing traffic problems while accommodating the increased traffic an economic boon like the Mazda Toyota plant brings with it.
In the meantime, we will all have to muddle along, driving carefully through construction zones, leaving for work a few minutes early and perhaps taking alternate routes where possible.
Construction zones are no place for speeding or distracted driving. According to the Federal Highway Administration, from 1982 through 2017, 27,037 people nationwide died in work zone crashes, which averages out to about 773 per year.
Also, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 1,844 workers died at road construction sites from 2003 to 2017, for an average of 123 a year. From 2011 to 2017, in 60% of those deaths, the worker was struck by a vehicle.
According to the Alabama Department of Transportation, there were 3,158 construction zone crashes in Alabama in 2017, with 31 deaths and 963 injuries.
So, for the next year or so, drivers will have to make highway safety even more of a priority.
But there is some good news, too. Given the deadline to be ready for when Mazda Toyota begins production, the state won’t dawdle widening and resurfacing Interstate 565 and Alabama 20.