Can We Hurry Up and Finish Zierdt Road?

Source: Huntsville CityBlog, Written by Mark McCarter

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Photo of Zierdt Road construction courtesy of SJ & L General Contractors

The $25-million Zierdt Road construction project is on time, on schedule, and on budget

Mayor Tommy Battle likes to say he has good news and bad news about the major road construction under way throughout Huntsville.

“The good news is we are spending a half billion dollars to improve your roads,” says Battle, “and the bad news is we are spending a half billion dollars to improve your roads.”

Orange cones are a common site across the City of Huntsville, and the widening of Zierdt from Martin Road to Madison Blvd., a 3 ½ -mile stretch, is one of the major road construction efforts, serving some 16,500 motorists daily. The City’s goal is to maintain an average 18-minute commute for residents, and the improvements to Zierdt Road will facilitate that.

Residents using Zierdt Road may be somewhat bewildered by the current lull in activity, but in reality that has happened because good weather and site conditions enabled the contractor to finish the most recent task “ahead of schedule and significantly under budget,” according to Kathy Martin, director of engineering for the City of Huntsville.

That’s great news to the City Council Member representing District 5, Will Culver, who considers the improvements of Zierdt Road one of his major priorities.”

“We haven’t stopped (working), but we’ve got a lot of moving parts,” says Culver.

The Zierdt Road project has been an ambitious undertaking involving the City of Huntsville, City of Madison, Madison County, Redstone Arsenal and the State of Alabama. Federal funds are covering 80 percent of the $25 million dollar price tag, with the City of Huntsville paying 15 percent of the cost and the City of Madison chipping in five percent.

Federally funded projects usually take about eight to nine years from conception to construction. The City started design in 2007. After a number of public meetings with residents of the area, city officials heard an overwhelming desire for a multi-use path for bikes and walking and for improved intersection function.  The City agreed and worked to incorporate public wishes into the design. Obtaining the land for a 12-foot path and improved intersections has required the purchase of additional right-of-way, and the State of Alabama has been tasked with acquiring the needed land.

“While we’re going above and beyond, in the end it is really going to be great so people can bike, walk and jog along that stretch of roadway,” Culver says. “It’s going to be awesome.”

WHAT’S HAPPENING NOW?

The city is currently awaiting permit approvals, utility relocations and cost estimates for the next phase, which will involve culvert extension, construction of transition lanes, and a new roadway across Lady Ann Lake near Edgewater. The City is monitoring the progress of these efforts on a weekly basis and residents should see a new round of construction in January.

Design for Zierdt Road

WHAT’S THE TIMELINE?

The Zierdt Road construction, which began in 2013, was separated into four phases to expedite the work on land that was available for construction. “We’ve made significant progress, and we’ve performed three years of work earlier than expected by phasing the project,” Martin says.

Phase 1: Clearing for the northbound lanes was along Redstone Arsenal property which began in 2013.

Phase 2: Relocating Redstone Arsenal security fencing began in 2014. Half of this stretch of Zierdt Road is on Redstone property.

Phase 3:  Northbound lanes are 95 percent complete. Construction activity will begin in January to transition traffic to the new northbound lanes in preparation for the next phase of work on the southbound lanes. The City anticipates utility relocation will be complete and all permits approved by the end of this year.

Phase 4:  This phase will involve construction of the southbound lanes, multi-use path, and intersection improvements at Martin Road and Madison Boulevard. The State of Alabama is completing the right-of-way acquisition for this phase to begin. Construction is expected to start next summer (2017) and finish within 2.5 years to provide for a completed Zierdt Road project.

Zierdt Road Project Map

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“Who’s Responsible for Ditch Maintenance,” an article from the City of Huntsville –

Source: Huntsville CityBlog, Written by Mark McCarter

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You don’t even notice them until you make it a mission to go find them. Then you can’t help see them everywhere you drive, big and small, well-reinforced or bordered by vegetation.

Hundreds of miles of ditches, weaving through Huntsville like the body’s circulatory system, are an unnoticed yet essential part of the city’s infrastructure. There are 250-plus ditches in the city of varying breadth, length and function.

As Joy McKee, Director of Landscape Management for the City of Huntsville, says, “All ditches are not created equal.”

They come with various labels and challenges.

They also come – most important for citizens to recognize — with shared responsibility. The city’s primary task is to keep the water flowing. The residents’ task is to perform whatever landscaping work they might choose.

Likely as not, the ditch in your world is yours. The vast majority of ditches in the city are on private property. They might be 50-50 shared with your neighbor, or maybe just one bank is on your side. It’s your responsibility for mowing and minor upkeep.

Even if it’s, say, a concrete ditch the city has built to alleviate draining problems, it’s yours as far as your property extends, and your choice on how it’s landscaped.

The city is not shirking responsibility. That’s merely common sense at play. But as noted by as Brian Walker, supervisor in the Landscape Management office, the City of Huntsville has often gone above and beyond in helping residents with maintenance.

Let’s take a narrow ditch that slices through English Village. Rows of fenced-in yards line both sides. When the city reinforced the ditch as a small concrete culvert, residents may have believed it had become city property and city responsibility.

However, members of Walker’s staff visited the neighborhood, going door-to-door to explain the situation. Walker then agreed to send a crew into the ditch area to eliminate growth and make it a simple enough task for residents to maintain afterward.

“We try to help everybody when we can,” Walker says.

As with much of City of Huntsville, the operation is a partnership. Maintaining the ditches is shared between Landscape Management, the Department of Public Works and Department of Engineering, each utilizing its skill-set for whatever unique challenge might be presented.

Public Works is called upon to repair ditches threatened by erosion. Because, as McKee puts it, “We don’t have the big-boy toys,” Public Works uses its machinery for major clean-up, like fallen trees or large debris that inhibit water flow. Landscape Management does clean-up work, whether through machinery or the careful use of what Walker calls “low-volatility chemicals.” As he says, “We want to encourage the good grasses to stay and the bad grasses to go.”

The largest ditches are owned by the Corps of Engineers. They’re called “blue-line ditches,” have more water and are most often considered creeks. The city’s role typically involves enlisting contractors to manage them and their larger tributaries, though it’s often difficult to wade through the permit process necessary with federally owned property.

The second group includes the ditches owned by the city. They are natural ditches or concrete culverts, and usually are bordered up to the creek banks by private property. The city maintains the concrete and makes sure there is not debris that obstructs water flow.

The last group includes the majority of ditches, the easements. They are ones that are totally on private property or maintained through a home-owners’ association. The city’s concern with them is the efficient flow of water, and it will take steps to correct that if a problem occurs.

“We do limited amount of maintenance,” McKee says. “All we’re required to do is make sure the water flows. Just because there is vegetation doesn’t mean water isn’t flowing.”

Walker reminds residents that the best avenue to address problems with ditches is through Huntsville Connect, the City’s service request app that filters residents’ concerns and funnels them to the proper departments.