December of 2016 is when reality set in for Marshall County industry leaders and public officials concerning the threatening nature of U.S. 431, and the conversation of a traffic study first began.
The $250,000 study was supposed to examine traffic patterns on U.S. Highway 431, from Veterans Memorial Bridge in Guntersville to the Etowah County line, and also take traffic signal timing and operation into account as well.
After the Alabama Department of Transportation (ALDOT) elected to help fund the year-long study conducted by Sain and Associates, Albertville’s cost for the project was $53,500; Boaz’s was $24,500; Guntersville’s was $47,000.
Fast forward to today — after a series of meetings and public hearings to go over the study — some of the cities’ leaders feel let down by the study’s results and lack of information, especially concerning traffic signal timing.
“Some of the things the study suggested were doable,” Albertville Mayor Tracy Honea said. “But when you get to the Alabama Highway 75 and U.S. 431 corridor, it was hard to get on the same page.”
In Albertville, there were major changes proposed. Most of those changes were between East McKinney Avenue to Mathis Mill Road with the focus at the intersections of U.S. 431 and Alabama 75. A lot of the proposed changes would prevent traffic from directly crossing U.S. 431.
All of the proposals were suggested with intentions to improve traffic flow, but Honea felt some changes could be detrimental to local businesses.
Honea said he would prefer to place emphasis on traffic redirection rather than closing roads or taking away traffic signals, whether it calls for simply directing motorists to use Alabama Highway 205 parallel to U.S. 431, or improving/creating access roads.
An example of redirection is when the Kmart property is redeveloped. Honea said the plan is to create a “real road” that would allow access to the incoming businesses directly from Alabama Highway 75 and connect to Carlisle Street — removing the need to get on U.S. 431.
As for the study, Honea was also hoping for more information and suggestions for traffic signal timing and upgrades.
“I appreciate the work Sain and Associates did with the study,” Honea said. “But I was expecting there to be a traffic signal evaluation and suggestions on upgrading to the latest technology, but that’s not what we got.”
In August of 2019, the Albertville City Council voted to formally oppose the traffic study, but Honea said the city isn’t giving up on making the highway safer. The goal moving forward is to focus on optimizing every traffic signal within the city limits, he said.
“I’d love to do all those at one time,” Honea said. “But if we do it, I want to do it right, and that could take some time … Simply put, as a city, we’re committed to doing everything we can to make improvements … trying to make the highway as safe as we can — whether we can do that through grants or we just have to bite the bullet.”
In Boaz, Sain and Associates determined the biggest problem was the high number of driveways, or “access points” and median crossovers — a common problem found throughout the three cities. The proposed solution is to remove a large number of those to better increase the flow of traffic and eliminate “conflict points,” but with local businesses in mind, Boaz Mayor David Dyar said he disagreed.
“The No. 1 concern for ALDOT is safety,” Dyar said. “If they can eliminate something to improve drivers’ safety, they’re going to do it … But, I think this is one of those situations where we’ve got to do what’s in the best interest of our city, and I will stand up for those business owners if I have the opportunity to make sure to reach a fair compromise … I’ve got to look out for Boaz.
“I think we need to be slow on the trigger before we start doing all this stuff,” Dyar continued. “Let’s look at synchronizing the lights, and let’s see what impact that has on us. Then let’s look at step two and step three — whatever those steps might be. But, just to come in and make all these changes at one time, and how it would impact our businesses in our community and also our police and fire departments — how they get across U.S. 431 … What’s in the best interest of our community?”
Another proposed changed in Boaz was to remove the traffic signal located at Bethsaida Road and widen the intersection at Alabama Highway 168.
Though some citizens think increasing the number of lanes on U.S. 431 is the best solution, Sain and Associates believes otherwise.
“The conventional wisdom for a corridor like 431 is to say we need to add more lanes,” Sain Associates President and CEO Jim Meads said during a 2018 public meeting in Boaz. “The reality is, we can’t add lanes in every corridor like that around the state because of funding. But the other reality is, the real problem we have is not how many lanes we have. It’s that there’s too many driveways. There are too many medians and signals are too close together. We need to more efficiently use what we have.”
It was also suggested that Alabama Highway 205 be put on a “road diet” and reduced to a three-lane road. This would give more room for pedestrians or bicycle lanes, Meads said.
One of the few suggestions implemented from the study occurred in Guntersville, which was the removal of the traffic signal at Gunter Avenue and Gilbreath Street. Guntersville Mayor Leigh Dollar said the signal was taken down a few months ago.
“I have heard very positive feedback from this change,” Dollar said.
A roundabout in Guntersville, to be located at the end of the Veterans Memorial Bridge coming into the city, was one of the prominent suggestions made by Sain and Associates, but constructing the roundabout would be dependent on the state’s approval and funding, Dollar said.
Sain and Associates didn’t address what was arguably the biggest issue to the mayors of Albertville and Boaz — traffic signal timing and optimization. However, steps are being taken to address the issue.
In February of 2019, the cities of Albertville and Boaz initiated a plan with ALDOT to work toward synchronizing and optimizing traffic signals on U.S. 431. The project has not started, and there is no specific timeline in place for the project, according to ALDOT North Region Public Information Officer Seth Burkett.