Naming a new coordinator, the Eastern Shore Metropolitan Planning Organization (ESMPO) also squelched rumors of a takeover by the South Alabama Regional Planning Commission (SARPC) this week, and is moving ahead with a handful of projects it believes will improve perceived traffic problems along the area’s busiest thoroughfares.
On Monday the Baldwin County Commission approved the hiring of ESMPO acting coordinator Sarah Hart to be the permanent replacement for former coordinator Matthew Brown, who took a job as an engineer in the highway department after his appointment to the state school board in July. Hart will be ESMPO’s only employee for the time being, after the county’s decision to not replace her with another assistant coordinator. Hart said Monday the position could be filled at a later date, but the ESMPO would operate with one employee for now.
The ESMPO policy board comprises Eastern Shore mayors, county commissioners, a Daphne city councilman and an Alabama Department of Transportation engineer. Fairhope Mayor Tim Kant is the chairman and also serves as the vice chairman of the South Alabama Regional Planning Commission (SARPC).
At the policy board’s April meeting, members discussed a possible takeover by SARPC, which assists 29 municipalities in Mobile and Baldwin counties with transportation planning and community development. Hart said the policy board considered the takeover, but “ultimately they decided the best option was staying with Baldwin County.”
Hart said ESMPO’s 2016 fiscal year budget will be $220,000, with 20 percent or $44,000 in funding from the county, the same as the previous year. ESMPO will also have $5,796,813 in reserves, which includes federal funds, a 20 percent match from local municipalities and approximately $3.6 million carried over from the 2013-2015 fiscal years. Federal dollars must be spent within three years of their allocation.
ESMPO is currently seeking comments on its final FY 2016-2019 Transportation Improvement Program (TIP), a document listing projects approved for funding within the next four years. The TIP has to be approved locally before being submitted to the Alabama Department of Transportation for inclusion in the Statewide Transportation Improvement Program.
The TIP includes design and installation of a $3.2 million adaptive signal system that will connect 28 intersections along U.S. Highway 98 from Spanish Fort to Fairhope. Construction of the system is expected to begin in 2016 and will take an estimated six months to complete.
Included in the signal project’s $3,230,481 price tag is $231,720 for the design phase, which will be managed by Birmingham-based Sain and Associates. The system will use Southern Light fiber optics, constructed at a cost of approximately $2.7 million and installed at a cost of $298,761.
ESMPO will pay $2.58 million, with ALDOT contributing $586,344, Fairhope $31,726, Daphne $42,154 and Spanish Fort $6,026.40. The Eastern Shore municipalities will also have a recurring yearly fiber lease of $10,000 in Fairhope, $9,035 in Daphne and $1,155 in Spanish Fort.
The adaptive signal system is a series of cameras, sensors and software using real-time data to communicate with traffic signals. If the system finds a rush of traffic or a back-up at a certain intersection, it adjusts traffic signals to minimize the wait times at each location. Hart said Sain and Associates installed a similar adaptive signal system on U.S. Route 280 in the Birmingham area.
“I think the adaptive signal system will make the biggest impact of all the TIP projects,” Hart said. “We’ve been working on this for a long time. Everyone who has driven on 98 around lunch time or at rush hour knows you can get caught at lights all the way down the road. We expect this project to provide a significant impact.”
Another significant project on the TIP is a 2019 fiscal year redesign of the interchange at Interstate 10 and State Highway 181 near the Eastern Shore Centre. With an estimated $3.6 million price tag, Hart said the Alabama Department of Transportation is studying options to reduce traffic congestion by retrofitting the area into a diverging diamond interchange, which allows the two directions of traffic on the non-freeway road to cross to the opposite side on both sides of the bridge at the freeway.
Diverging diamond interchanges are considered safer than traditional interchanges because the design eliminates long left turns in front of oncoming traffic. The systems also reduce delays through the use of two-phase signals with short cycle lengths. Hart said the system is cost efficient because the county could retrofit the existing system instead of installing all new equipment.
The TIP also includes approximately $800,000 for resurfacing and widening of Baldwin County 13 from State Highway 104 to County Road 48 and from the new roundabout at the intersection of county roads 64 and 13 to Ottawa Drive. Among the other projects listed are resurfacing Scenic 98 from Nelson Drive to County Road 1 and BRATS transit hubs in Fairhope, Daphne and Spanish Fort.
The TIP document is available through Sept. 14 for public viewing and comment submission at city halls and public libraries in Daphne, Spanish Fort, Fairhope, Loxley, Silverhill and Robertsdale, as well as Baldwin County Commission offices and Eastern Shore Chamber of Commerce offices in Fairhope and Spanish Fort.
Comments may also be mailed or hand delivered to Eastern Shore Metropolitan Planning Organization, c/o Baldwin County (Fairhope) Satellite Courthouse, 1100 Fairhope Ave., Fairhope, Alabama 36532, emailed to [email protected] or faxed to 251-580-2590.