FAIRHOPE – With Baldwin County’s population expected to increase by about 50 percent in the next 20 years, local officials are working to prepare for the traffic and congestion that growth will bring.
The Eastern Shore Metropolitan Planning Organization is developing a Long-Range Transportation Plan Update to study traffic growth and congestion over the next 25 years. The MPO assists with transportation planning for the area that includes Spanish Fort, Daphne, Fairhope, Loxley and nearby unincorporated areas.
The MPO policy board is scheduled to discuss a draft proposal of the plan later this month.
Baldwin County’s population, now more than 200,000, is expected to top 300,000 by 2040 and continue climbing. At a board work session on Wednesday, July 8, planners said road improvements needed to keep the same level of service and congestion drivers now experience could cost up to $125 million.
John Gardner, senior transportation planner with J.R. Wilburn and Associates, which is helping to develop the plan, said that growth will expand population centers to the north and east of the Eastern Shore.
The forecast -- you really see a lot of growth north of I-10 in Spanish Fort and Loxley,” Gardner said. “You also see a lot of growth in that 181-corridor. You start to see the households spreading out to Robertsdale and in that area around Silverhill.”
Roads where congestion is expected to increase include Interstate 10 at Mobile Bay, Jimmy Faulkner Drive, US 31, Alabama 59 at I-10, Alabama 104 and other areas of I-10 and 59.
Some of the highest priorities in the draft include widening US 98 at I-10 to six lanes and US 31 to four lanes east of where the highway is being widened now. Corridor studies on Alabama 59 and US 98 are also listed as top priorities.
The draft does not include funding for widening I-10 to six lanes between Alabama 181 and Alabama 59. That $76-million project is one of the most needed, but money for that work would come from Alabama Department of Transportation’s budget and not funds overseen by the MPO, so it was not included on the list, Gardner said.
If ALDOT can’t pay for that work, however, it will have an impact on other roads, he said.
“We think it’s reasonable to assume that section of I-10 gets widened to six lanes,” Gardner said. “If we don’t assume that, we see a lot bigger need for widening in the rest of the network because as it becomes congested, you’ll see traffic shift to the parallel streets.”
During the work session, some local officials questioned the priorities given to some projects. Baldwin County Engineer Joey Nunnally said Baldwin County 64 in Belforest was listed as a medium priority project, but the region has some of the highest growth in the area.
“There’s a crazy amount of development going on out there right now,” Nunally said. “There’s one subdivision that’s got 900. Another one’s got 600 houses. Another one’s got 300 or 400 houses. The only one that’s under construction right now is the 900 houses. The others are fixing to come online. I’m just trying to get ahead of the ball game, trying to be proactive instead of reactive.”
Rod Wilburn of JRWA said County 64 was not given a top priority because it is in better condition than some other two-lane highways in the area. He said, however, that planners need to work with local officials to get information on areas such as Belforest before a final plan can be completed.