Blankenship: Access to stores will not be blocked

Engineer: Airport Road work will be on and off


An engineer says work on Airport Road will stop and start through the year as work continues for adding more turning lane area north of Highway 118, emphasizing that access to businesses there will not be blocked. 

However, Stephen Blankenship, an environmental engineer with McGehee Engineering in Jasper,  urged those driving through to other destinations take alternate routes.  

Blankenship spoke about the $3 million city project on Jasper Mayor David O'Mary's weekly Facebook video, which was posted Monday morning. 

Studies have shown 14,000 vehicles travel the road each day. 

O'Mary and Blankenship explained the project extends on North Airport Road from about Woodland Villa Drive to about 800 feet south of the intersection with Highway 118, also known as Highway 78. The intersection is highlighted by Walgreens and CVS. 

Blankenship said the project extends past the intersection, where the road turns into Airport Road South, and ends at about the entrance to the High Forest Apartments. 

He noted the current activity has been north of the intersection, with barrels and equipment out and grading on the side of the road, north of Barry's Furniture. "That's where the primary activity is taking place this week, and will continue to take place over the next couple of weeks, and it will work its way south," he said.

As the work progresses, he said the intersection will also deal with a traffic signal replacement, and some paving and resurfacing will also take place there.

Asked by O'Mary about the timeline for the project, Blankenship said it has 120 working days officially. 

"Now, that is actual physical working days, and that is excluding weekends, holidays, weather days and the like," he said. "The actual on-the-ground, boots and labor activity has really only been about two weeks worth of time billed to the project, although the project has been going on extensively for some time." 

Blankenship pointed out the project was bid out in May 2018 and was awarded the following June. The pre-construction meeting with the contractor, Carcel & G Construction, LLC of Hanceville, was in August last year, and actual work began Sept. 14 at that time.

"The work begun was putting out signs, doing the survey layout for what the extent of the widening was going to be and identifying utility conflicts, if any," he said. "There actually were some utility conflicts identified. That sort of set back the contractors working days timeframe, while those issues got resolved. So work has been going on, even though it doesn't count against those 120 working days, relocating the utilities, relocating the power poles." 

He said people have probably seen those have been re-established, but other utilities from Charter (now branded as Spectrum) and AT&T have to be relocated.

"One of the snafus there was that the traffic signal poles have to be moved in order to move some of the utilities," he said. "When the work began in September, the design plans were submitted to (the Alabama Department of Transportation) for approval for the traffic signal poles." 

After an expedited process, the poles were approved in December 2018, allowing the subcontractor to order the poles for delivery in about six months - which is this month, he said. 

"We're on schedule," Blankenship said, noting he had talked with the contractor this week and also with the subcontractor. They reported that "in the next couple of weeks we should have those traffic signal poles and be able to relocate those utilities sometime in the next month.

"That being said, the project will continue on and we'll kind of speed up. You'll see a lot more activity once that takes place."

Overall, physical labor on the project will continue "probably through the end of the year," he said. "But that will be in phases. You'll see a lot of work going on at one point of time, and then we will have to be waiting on testing, material testing, curing of concrete for the footers of the traffic signal poles. You'll see a lot of activity at one point and then you won't see as much activity, and then you will see a lot of activity." 

O'Mary said citizens have asked him what the project is about, noting the project is "not as simple as widening the road," and asked Blankenship to elaborate. 

Blankenship said, "As everybody in the city knows, that is a very congested area from traffic, especially coming south down North Airport Road when you get to that intersection. And basically it is more than widening. It is widening, but it is also adding that turn lane to access those businesses through that area.

"You will notice on North Airport Road, from where this project starts north, there is a turn lane. You will see that from the Trace. You will see that all the way down to the Woodland Villas entrance. You see it right there at Pineview (Road). Well, it is extending that turn lane on down. This will allow for that traffic that is congested generally at the intersection to flow a little bit more freely, because people can now move into the turn lane, and that person turning left or right can actually be waiting in the turn lane until the traffic passes. So there is a great benefit from reducing the congestion in this area by widening the road and adding the turn lane."

He said the work also improves entrances into business locations at the intersection. 

Blankenship was asked by O'Mary if the work will interfere with the traffic on Highway 118. 

"It will for a period of time. Obviously toward the end of the project is when the resurfacing, when the final wearing surface will be placed. There will be closer to the end of the project there will be a period of time where segments of that will have to be blocked off. Traffic will have to be rerouted so those wearing surfaces can be placed in that area." 

He also noted "in the next couple of months" the traffic signal poles will be installed and the traffic signals will be switched from the current system to the new one, disrupting traffic.

"That will be a short duration of time. That traffic signal, the people in the traffic won't actually see the big delay in that," noting it will come after the equipment is installed. 

"At that point in time, the traffic signal will be dead. That will be an all stop. But there will be flagman at that intersection directing traffic at that time, but that will be less than a half a day's time. The actual signal won't be off more than probably more than an hour."

As far as school traffic starting in August, Blankenship said a "significant chance" exists that traffic will be impacted, although currently he said crews were fortunate that school is out for the summer, noting work will escalate as much as possible until school begins. 

"Still, the best solution is during this time, now until really the last couple of months of the year, is to avoid this area as much as possible," he said. 

However, he noted businesses along Airport Road are open, and officials have talked with them. 

"They are still operating, they are still open and they want people to know they still have access," he said. "We're not going to be restricting access. The contractors are not going to be restricting access through there to those businesses. You can still access that. But if you are just driving through, and you need to get to another part of town, and that is just your easiest route, I would recommend for the ease of traveling through this area to take an alternate route" if one is not patronizing a business there.

If one is coming south on North Airport Road en route to the west side of town, it will be simpler "to take the Trace and go to the Mall Way and avoid this construction area," Blankenship said. If you are going to the east side of town, you take a left on Pineview and go (south on) 14th Avenue, and come out on Walston Bridge Road." 

As much as 3 feet of dirt has been moved at some locations on North Airport Road, where more of the widening will be on the east side of the road, with the edges of the road and the shoulder marked by pink-colored indicators. A 2-foot wide ditch will be on either side of the road, and some driveways are now being cut through and replaced, with pipe also being installed.