Why Build an Elevated Highway? Follow the Money!

There is no doubt a growing traffic problem on U.S. 280. And the communities in opposition to the elevated highway are equally committed to solving the problem! But an elevated highway at a projected cost of a billion dollars (based on the $80 million per mile of Figg’s 3-lane Tampa project) is not the only solution, particularly when other more practical less costly solutions are available. (see links to Austin, TX tollway below)

Most people are not fooled by the slick presentations promoting this highway as ‘art’ or a ‘parkway garden experience’. There is obviously not a plant alive which can survive in a traffic median under an 80’ concrete roof in the precious little remaining construction dirt between massive support columns. But the fact that the highway is being represented in such a way calls into question first the credibility of its proponents, and as a result, raises additional questions that have never been addressed.

However, in addition to the disturbing issues below, there is the far more compelling issue that IT WILL NOT SOLVE THE PROBLEM!


• So why is this elevated highway being promoted with misleading and out-of-scale drawings touting its beauty and unrealistic landscaping rather than addressing the real issues as well as alternatives?
• Why are meetings carefully orchestrated to deny the public’s vocal and active participation?

• Who will see the public’s written comments, which at Figg’s insistence were deposited in a box, other than Figg Engineers?

• Since column failures caused massive and unexpected overruns in Tampa, has Birmingham’s porous geography dotted with abandoned coal mine tunnels even been considered in the cost?
• Tampa’s construction costs (which are being used for a cost projection model) are for only 3 lanes of one-way traffic, vs. the projected 6 to 8 lanes for the Birmingham project.

• Exactly who is supporting its construction and why?
• If an elevated highway is built down the middle of 280 from downtown to 459, grade separations and/or urban exchanges to solve the local traffic problem would be impossible unless the highway was demolished at enormous additional expense.

• Elevated highways in other cities have led to blight and are being demolished for greenways (see links to articles below)
• This includes the famous Embarcadero Freeway in San Francisco.

• Elevated highways are historically poorly maintained.
• Elevated highways historically reduce property values in the surrounding areas.
• The documented percentage of cars removed from traffic is less than 25% based on Figg’s elevated highway in Tampa. Their completed highway appears to be ineffective in solving the traffic problem, leaving the remaining 75% of motorists in gridlock below. (see link to article below)
• Again, potential future urban overpasses north of 459 to solve the gridlock between 459 and downtown would be impossible with an elevated highway in the median.
• No one believes that the construction of the monolith would be ‘non-disruptive’ simply because it’s in the median.
• Why is the Alabama Department of Transportation (ALDOT) changing their own rules regarding highway safety to accommodate the highway?

• Note that Vestavia is in the process of removing trees in the median due to their safety hazard.
• The concrete support columns are projected to be 10 feet square and certainly much less ‘forgiving’ than the 3” trunk of a Bradford pear.
• Concrete columns every 140’ will interfere with sight lines at intersections which is in violation of ALDOT’s safety guidelines.
• How high do the barriers have to be to prevent accidents like the recent schoolbus accident in Huntsville which injured 30 and killed 7?
• How would accidents be handled with limited access?
• The communities in the western section of 280 (including Homewood and Mountain Brook) have tried to limit access, the eastern section has allowed unlimited access with virtually no side access roads, and most proponents are from the eastern section.
• Rampant development with unlimited access to 280 south of 459 is the primary cause of the current problem.
• However, property values would be reduced in the areas with the record of the best stewardship and maintenance.
• Access and traffic solutions in the areas with the best stewardship are not addressed.
• Who will be receiving the benefit of the tolls and the elevated highway?
• Can we study the cost effectiveness of tolls as a return on construction cost?

• What public funding will be necessary and where will it come from?
• Was the initial $200,000 raised by Progress 280 adequate to fund this initiative, and if not, who is advancing the promotional money?
• Paid by tolls only? The State implies that this highway would be paid for completely by the people who use it. At $3/car for at the most 20,000 cars per day – that’s $21 million a year to pay for all expenses of maintenance as well as amortize $1 billion. It can’t be done even in the most optimistic projections!
What are the less expensive, more practical alternatives?

Grade separations or Urban overpasses at key intersections, i.e. Cherokee Road, Rocky Ridge, The Summit, Cahaba Village, etc.
• would eliminate the need for traffic lights at intersections and allow traffic to flow uninterrupted
• would be far less costly
• would be funded by state and federal money (which the state would prefer not to contribute)

• would allow for additional growth at future intersections

• would be more far more attractive

• would solve the gridlock north of 459
• would enable easier maintenance and landscaping
• would be safer with better visibility

Aren’t urban overpasses much less expensive and less environmentally invasive than an elevated highway? Wouldn’t they solve our local problem north of 459, as well as allow the fast access to areas south of 459?

These were the legitimate questions that our communities raised in the belief that this was a ‘done deal’, and that the presentations were for public relations only.
The opponents of this project are realistic enough to assume that progress is inevitable. But they are also the people most affected by this patented product presented as an easy solution. At the last meeting, a highway proponent made a compelling argument for the elevated highway by saying, “Solutions since 1983 have been presented and rejected by you people, and it’s about time you accepted SOMETHING!” Frustration is no reason to accept a flawed concept. And none of the previous concepts involved a BILLION DOLLARS! Maybe now’s the time to take another look at the previous solutions.
Let’s follow the money! It’s likely to be your taxpayer dollars. Will it benefit you? Do you want to be railroaded into an elevated highway without considering the alternatives?

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From Macy's at the Summit

From Macy's at the Summit

Transportation Prescription for Healthy Cities

A detailed study entitled "Transportation Prescription for Healthy Cities" by Ian M. Lockwood, P.E., for those who are interested in more information, is available through the link to the downloadable (75 page) pdf file below.


Transportation Planning - Glatting Jackson Kercher Anglin


U.S. Highway 280 Alternatives Analysis and Visualization

The attached link is a 39 page pdf file prepared by the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at The University of Alabama at Birmingham.

Musings on Bham's 280 by a California native

Can’t go around it, can’t go under it, don’t want to go over it…

February 7th, 2007

Like the camp song says, “can’t go around it”… “can’t go under it”… “can’t go over it”. On the subject of Highway 280’s congestion problems, some want to “go over it”. Personally, I think it’s best to improve our way THROUGH IT


BJCC Progress blocked by elevated highway per Director of Regional Planning Commission

"I believe the Civic Center area will always be a tough sell as long as that elevated road is there," (Charles) Ball (director of the Regional Planning Commission) said. http://www.al.com/birminghamnews/stories/index.ssf?/base/news/117360549967630.xml&coll=2

What if an elevated highway sliced Beale Street from the rest of Memphis? What if an elevated road kept pedestrians from Fourth Street Live! in Louisville?

Time is now to ask those questions, said Charles Ball, director of the Regional Planning Commission of Greater Birmingham.

City Leaders and residents fighting a proposal to elevate U.S. 280

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Elevated 280, before and after

Wednesday, March 14, 2007
News staff writer

Editorials from the Birmingham News


Would be bad for neighborhoods

Among the many lessons learned from the construction of the nation's interstate highway system was that elevated highways had a destructive effect on neighborhoods. In "Divided Highways," author Tom Lewis recounts how proposals for elevated highways in New Orleans, San Francisco, New York, Philadelphia and other large cities were rejected once neighborhood advocates realized the highway planners' raised roads would bring noise, pollution, grime and visual blight.

Granted, U.S. 280 is not an urban interstate, but an elevated highway on 280 would have these same impacts on the neighborhoods it passes.

As for "cool," big cities everywhere are now competing for young urban professionals to provide our work force, brain power and possibly leadership for the future. In the Nov. 25 edition of The New York Times, "downtown living, public transportation and plenty of entertainment options" were cited by young professionals as features that will attract them to their cities of choice.

Last year, while in St. Louis riding its light-rail mass transit system from the airport to downtown, my 19-year-old daughter asked me why we didn't have a train like that in Birmingham; great question, with no good answer.

There are other compelling reasons for including a mass transit option. Economic growth for Southern cities with mass transit exceeds that of cities without, and there is the obvious environmental benefit associated with moving people in mass rather than one or two at a time.

Bad for neighborhoods, not cool to young professionals: We need to drop the idea of an elevated highway and develop a smarter plan for our future.

Jeff Underwood


Renderings omit dark shadows:

Renderings in The News Thursday of the proposed elevated highway above U.S. 280 were lovely.

Oddly, though, the cars and trees cast shadows, but the highway never does. The highway just seems to be barely there, blending always into the sky. It's always sunny around the highway. I guess these must be the renderings of those who want to build it.

Now, let's see the drawings from those who oppose the highway - the drawings that will show the dark shadow it forever casts across the landscape, the litter that gathers below it, the stained and graffiti-covered concrete from a few years down the road.

Art Meripol

Mountain Brook

Natural assets must not be ruined:

Couching a large concrete structure through the middle of Mountain Brook and Homewood built to facilitate unfettered urban sprawl down U.S. 280 as a "tribute to nature" is an example of the spin being employed in the elevated highway concept.

The term "concept" is appropriate, because the Alabama Department of Transportation representative said at the public hearing that DOT will do its own design of the roadway if the project moves forward. The color pictures in your newspaper represent fanciful drawings by a private firm. (For example, the major intersection views do not show up/down ramps, and assumptions are made that cutting-edge lighting and roadway technologies would be part of the DOT's final, funded design.)

Notwithstanding the design, I disagree with the premise. The concept work assumes that the cities through which U.S. 280 runs are beholden to accommodate everyone who wants to drive without traffic on the road. The beauty of Homewood and Mountain Brook is a key reason I moved here to start a business, and it creates a positive impression of Birmingham in those who visit from elsewhere. We must be careful to not ruin the natural assets that enable the growth we hope to enjoy.

G.T. LaBorde

Mountain Brook

Only butterflies, bunnies missing:

It is very disappointing to learn The News is buying the slick marketing campaign of Progress 280 and others to build an elevated U.S. 280. The highly idealized and artfully Photoshopped "pictures" The News printed without qualification lack only pretty bunnies and butterflies to make their falsely pastoral setting complete.

The truth is there is nothing pretty about the elevated road, either environmentally or aesthetically. If you wanted to provide an accurate sense of what the elevated road might be like, color the blue skies gray from the resulting air pollution and the tunnel-like effect of the structure. The misleading perspective contained in the "photo" in no way reflects just how wide and massive the elevated structure would be, or how long a shadow it would cast. And any promised short-term improvements in air quality that may be realized by decreasing stop-and-go traffic are going to quickly be eclipsed by the even greater number of cars that will be on the road.

The pictures also need a soundtrack; perhaps you have the road noise from last year's Talladega 500. Figg Engineering's disingenuous claims about better design and materials aside, the noise of the significant truck and local traffic at grade (missing from the nice pictures) will be trapped and broadcast throughout the lower elevations of interior neighborhoods. Meanwhile, because of the topography of our area, those homes situated above U.S. 280 will have no protection from the elevated portion of the road.

The one kernel of truth in so much fluffy popcorn about the road's "benefits" was the candid admission by Alabama Department of Transportation engineer Brian Davis of what we all know: Historically, adding lanes is a short-term solution that does not work.

Letters, faxes, and e-mail

Sunday, January 28, 2007

If the elevated road proponents win and we spend an estimated $400 million to $700 million to build 10 miles of road, even according to DOT's most conservative estimates, the road will be obsolete within about 20 years of its construction. Meanwhile, we will have destroyed what makes our city beautiful and distinctive with the ugly urban leviathan of the elevated road.

Eva Dillard