Work at Exit 79 Northbound set to be done by early-May, followed by southbound work

Published 10:30 am Thursday, April 11, 2024

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VALLEY — The disruptions caused by the current one-lane traffic over the Highway 29 bridge over I-85 may be ending soon. Traffic across the bridge could be back to normal in only one month or so.

The northbound portion of the road across the bridge has been closed for some time. While work has been taking place on that part of the bridge, both the north and south-bound traffic has been routed into one lane on the south-bound side.

Operations Engineer Shannon Jones told members of the Valley Lions Club on Monday evening that work is nearing completion on the northbound side and will soon start on the southbound portion of the bridge. Jones was the guest speaker at the club’s Monday evening meeting.

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Jones works out of the Alabama Department of Transportation (ALDOT) office in Alexander City. He lives near the Coosa River in Lincoln, Alabama.

He attended Auburn University before becoming an ALDOT trainee, getting lots of practical experience in road widening projects on US 280 and 431. He’s also done lots of ALDOT maintenance work in the Anniston area.

“We are going through some changes for the better. I am hoping you see that,” he said of the current bridge project.

It’s a $5.1 million effort to transform the heavily-traveled bridge at Exit 79. The concrete being put down is around nine inches thick and should be maintenance-free for many years to come.

Jones joked that he must be public enemy number one with Valley Mayor Leonard Riley, who was present at the meeting. Riley has contacted him on a number of occasions to inquire about the project. The one-lane traffic has impacted businesses on both sides of the bridge. In many cases, business activity hasn’t been what it was before the project began.

Jones said the Highway 29 bridge was chosen for this project because of the volume of truck traffic that stops and starts at the traffic signals on the bridge. It’s part of a major upgrade that’s been going on near the state line with Georgia. A new welcome center opened two years ago, a lighting project followed to have better night-time viewing for travelers on I-85 and the current project should result in a much-improved way to get on and off the Interstate. The next work on this section of I-85 will be some improvements on the Osanippa Creek bridges south of Exit 77.

“The pavement we are putting down should last triple time,” Jones said. “I think the traffic across the bridge could get back to normal around May 8th.”

Work is finishing up on the northbound lanes of Highway 29 and should start shortly on the southbound side. “We have had to fight through a lot of problems to get to where we are,” he said. “We’ve learned a lot and have worked out the kinks. I don’t think the second side will be as difficult as the first one has been. The weather will also be a factor. You can’t get any work done when it’s raining.”

Another ALDOT project in the local area involves the resurfacing of Highway 29 from the Osanippa Creek bridge south of Valley to the area near Chambley’s. A significant part of this work will be an effort to promote traffic safety in Johnson’s Curve. The longstanding problem here is that many vehicles over the years have run off the road and into Moore’s Creek while heading north.

Highway engineers believe that a barrier wall just off the roadway can keep this from happening. An underground sewer line in the area will affect where it’s positioned.

There is some risk involved in doing this. There may be the unintended consequence of vehicles hitting the wall and being deflected back into oncoming traffic.

Improving traffic safety in Johnson’s Curve is not an easy matter to address, but state engineers have been studying this problem for some time and will try to do something about it in this upcoming project.

The section of Highway 29 from Chambley’s to the I-85 bridge is on schedule to be resurfaced within the next several years.

“The thing about an ALDOT project,” Jones said in jest, “is that when we finish up and are gone we are back again before you know it.”

That drew a round of laughter from a large gathering inside the banquet room at San Marcos Mexican Restaurant.

Jones was introduced by Chambers County Highway Engineer Josh Harvill, who said that Jones was much better to work with than others he’d come across. “He calls you to see what ALDOT can do in your county,” he said. “We have had a lot of work going on here lately, and we are fortunate to have it. Shannon helped us get the new lighting on I-85, and he has helped us with tree trimming along county roads.”

Jones, in turn, said that Chambers County was fortunate to have Harvill. “I have eight counties in my district, and I think Josh is the best county engineer I’ve worked with,” he said. “He’s very easy to work with, and I appreciate him a lot.”

Mayor Riley said he wanted Jones to know that he appreciated the work being done here by ALDOT but was worried about what could happen if there’s a truck wreck on the Interstate and traffic is rerouted on Highway 29. “We have had a lot of wrecks on the Interstate between here and Tuskegee,” he said. “If were have a wreck near here and they have to shut down a north or south-bound lane and reroute traffic on 29 it could be a nightmare with all the traffic backing up.”

Harvill asked Jones if he could see the portion of I-85 from the state line past Exit 77 ever going from four lanes to six. “I-20 would have to go first,” he said of the Interstate between Atlanta and Birmingham.

Jones said it’s very expensive to maintain an Interstate, especially the portions that have more than four lanes. It can cost upward to $250,000 a mile to resurface major sections like that.

“One section of I-20 that really needs to be expanded,” said Jones, “is on schedule to have it done but that won’t be taking place until 2056.”

Jones talked about some projects that will be taking place in the LaFayette area over the next few years. The Highway 50 bypass on the south side of town is set for resurfacing next year and the resurfacing of Highway 50 from LaFayette to Lanett will be taking place in 2026. “Hopefully we will have Chambers County looking a lot better in a few years,” he said.

Program Chairman Sam Bradford thanked Jones for the work ALDOT has been doing in Chambers County. He said the $5.1 million project on the I-85 bridge will make a big difference for motorists when the work is finished.