A Question About The Elevated 280

For anyone who does not know, US 280 is the B’ham area’s most congested road. The fault is uncontrolled and unplanned development south of the city.

If you head out of town on 280, you first drive through Homewood, Mountain Brook, and Vestavia Hills. The traffic is not so bad in those areas, largely because they have severely restricted the amount of development on the highway and there are other routes available. Once you get past those areas and into hell Shelby County, though, it is complete insanity; nothing but shopping centers, housing developments, and red lights. Also, in Shelby County280 is one of two North-South thoroughfares. So everyone who has to go to B’ham for work has to take either 280 or the other option, I-65.

So, the folks down South are now clamoring for a solution to the traffic problem. What they want is an elevated expressway built over the current 280. The more responsible communities – Mt. Brook and Homewood – oppose the idea.

As much as I hate to side with the snobs, I’m inclined to agree with Homewood and Mt. Brook. The road would be loud, ugly, and a source of pollution, and I don’t think these towns should suffer because other people were irresponsible. Besides, if you build an expressway, that might solve the traffic problem in the short term, but it will only encourage more people to move south, which will eventually clog the expressway, too. So the end result is the same problem we have now.

My other problem is the reason for this post. I’ve read about several meetings that have discussed this plan. All of them say the elevated expressway will head into downtown by merging with the Red Mountain Expressway. That’s how it works now. 280 merges with 31 about a mile outside downtown, then the combined road – the Red Mountain Expressway – goes through a huge cut in Red Mountain and into downtown B’ham. My question is this, how is the elevated expressway going to avoid what will surely be a miles long bottleneck at this intersection?

The junction can get backed up now, even with all the red lights that break up the traffic on the roads as they head toward the merger. So when the expressway eliminates the breaks and instead delivers a steady stream of traffic into the junction, I don’t think the results will be pretty. Think of it like watering a plant. If you pore in a bit at a time, the dirt has time to absorb the water between pours, but if you run a hose at full blast, the water quickly backs up and flows over the edges of the pot. Right now, the lights make the junction like the first situation, with an expressway it would be like the water hose. I’m sure whatever time you saved in Shelby County would be lost in this bottleneck, maybe even more.

So how to prevent it? The Red Mountain Expressway can’t be widened without blowing up more of the mountain and the surrounding very expensive neighborhoods. The junction itself is also hemmed in by high value developments. I guess we could add an elevated lane over the RME. I really have no idea, and would like to know if this issue has been addressed at any of the planning meetings.

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12 Comments on “A Question About The Elevated 280”

  1. Dystopos Says:

    I find your analysis of the current problem to be very astute and very well-stated.

    The issue has not been addressed in any of the plans, though it was addressed in traffic modeling studies conducted at UAB. My impression is that actual engineering tells you there’s not much hope for doing a lot of good no matter what you try. The truth of that has no political value, however, so the powers that be are required to appear to be doing something.

    There’s some background on Progress 280, with a link to their meeting minutes, at BhamWiki:

    http://www.bhamwiki.com/wiki/index.php?title=Progress_280

  2. Dystopos Says:

    I think your analysis of the current situation is very astute and well-stated. As for your question, I don’t believe that the Red Mtn Expressway issue has been dealt with in any of the proposals. I believe it was factored into the modeling that UAB did for Progress 280’s “Alternatives Analysis”.

    There’s some background in the “Progress 280” article on BhamWiki.

  3. Kathy Says:

    If you’re going to refer to the residents of Homewood and Mountain Brook as snobs (and I know you live in Homewood and are poking at yourself as well), how about consideration of the snobs in Shelby County who apparently consider themselves far too good to push for and then use a good public transit system.

    When I lived in Houston in the early 80’s, I used park & ride and took the bus (a very nice bus) to and from my downtown office almost every day. Not only did it save wear and tear on my car (my Nissan was rear-ended at slow speed several times while in stop-and-go traffic during the two years I lived there) but probably saved my sanity as well. Instead of stressing over the traffic, I could read or sleep. This seems like a much better solution than an elevated highway, which will, as you say, just lead to increased congestion.

  4. wheeler Says:

    “I know you live in Homewood and are poking at yourself as well”

    i wish. i’m too poor. we live in b’ham.

    “the snobs in Shelby County who apparently consider themselves far too good to push for and then use a good public transit system.”

    good point. i would be the happiest person on earth if i could get around town without using my car.

  5. Kathy Says:

    That’s okay. We lived in Homewood once upon a time, in the low rent district, but we had to move when the kids started coming and we needed more space — couldn’t afford a bigger house there.

  6. Frank Says:

    Trying to solve traffic congestion by adding more lanes to a road (even if elevated) is the equivalent of sloving your weight problem by adding notches to your belt. It may make you feel better for a few weeks, but it does not begin to address the problem.

  7. quaoar Says:

    One reason that 280 in Shelby County is so bad is because the area from the Summit to just before Valleydale Road is in the city of Birmingham, which is only interested in maximizing its sales tax revenues from that area and thus in packing in as many retail stores as possible.

    Instead of an elevated road, it would be better to make 280 a limited access road, eliminate red lights from the Expressway to 459 by creating overpasses and/or tunnels, extending frontage roads along 280 in Shelby County from the Cahaba River to Greystone and turning Grant’s Mill Road/119 into an alternate commuter route.

  8. Tim Says:

    “The road would be loud, ugly, and a source of pollution” — like the current 280 isn’t?

  9. Dystopos Says:

    You can see renderings of the proposal here: http://www.al.com/birminghamnews/photos/gallery.ssf?cgi-bin/view_gallery.cgi/bama/view_gallery.ata?g_id=2906

    For those not fluent in architectural rendering-ese, imagine the same image, but add deep shadows where the light from the sun is blocked and mentally remove the plantings that would not survive in such an environment. Also, add graffiti and the occassional loosed steel coil crushing every car in its path.

  10. Kathy Says:

    Yeah, and I understand the designers say the pictured plants will be watered by runoff from the overhead roadway. I bet they’ll be really healthy, too. If the shadows don’t kill them, the water certainly will.


  11. […] I found the report rational and without obvious bias. The authors apparently agree with the Alablawg post questioning the issue about dumping traffic onto the Red Mountain Expressway where 280 and 31 merge in Homewood. I think they also successfully […]


  12. […] I found the report rational and without obvious bias. The authors apparently agree with the Alablawg post questioning the issue about dumping traffic onto the Red Mountain Expressway where 280 and 31 merge in Homewood. I think they also successfully […]


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