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Economic Growth in Tuscaloosa Spurs Alabama DOT’s $52M US 11 Widening Project

by: Larry Bernstein
The widening of U.S. 11 in Bibb County is approximately 7 miles long, taking place between Daimler Benz Boulevard in Tuscaloosa County and the State Route 5 intersection.
The widening of U.S. 11 in Bibb County is approximately 7 miles long, taking place between Daimler Benz Boulevard in Tuscaloosa County and the State Route 5 intersection.
In the 1990s, Mercedes-Benz made the decision to build its first-ever U.S. manufacturing facility in Alabama, and throughout the years the company has continued to invest millions of dollars to increase its development in the state, according to the Encyclopedia of Alabama website. In the spring of 2022, Mercedes-Benz opened an electric vehicle battery plant in Bibb County. The massive factory is one of the largest in North America. Other elements of the operation include a global logistics center and parts hub as well as a campus in Tuscaloosa County.

Mercedes-Benz’ continued development into the state is a key reason behind the widening of U.S. 11 in Bibb County, which is in West Central Alabama, outside of Tuscaloosa. The widening project is taking place in the middle of the Mercedes-Benz development. It is occurring on U.S. 11 between Daimler Benz Boulevard in Tuscaloosa County and the State Route 5 intersection (approximately 7 miles) in Bibb County.

“There’s been significant growth in industry over the last 25 years that has transformed the U.S. 11 corridor from Daimler Benz Boulevard to State Route 5 into one of the most traveled roadways in the region,” said John McWilliams, a Public Information Officer with the Alabama Department of Transportation (ALDOT). Traffic numbers grew 4.6 percent between 2014 and 2016. “These numbers are expected to increase with the expansion of existing manufacturing plants and the possible addition of new industries.”

The average daily traffic along the corridor was 6,800 in 2016 and 8,000 in 2022, with more growth expected. A significant portion of the traffic is trucks.

There are additional drivers of traffic along the corridor. The area includes a rock quarry, a lumber mill, and an elementary school. Then, there are those six-plus fall Saturdays when the University of Alabama football team plays home games, drawing alumni and fans from around the state.

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Vehicles traveling in the area generally use Interstate 20/59 or other local routes but can use U.S. 11 as an alternative when issues arise. “The project will also serve to alleviate congestion on the interstate during incident management, allowing routes along the corridor to maintain operations and functionality during these times,” McWilliams said.

From Two to Four Lanes
Currently, U.S. 11 is a two-lane highway. When the project is complete, there will be two lanes in each direction and a 5- to 8-foot grass island in the center. There will also be a walking path along six miles of the west side of the corridor. The existing lanes are being repaved.

A road widening has the potential to impact structures, and on this project, 15 box culverts — all underground — are being impacted.

“The additional lanes are being placed on the west side of the high side of the highway,” said Ryan McDonald, Chief Operating Officer for Carcel & G Construction. The Alabama-based construction company is serving as the general contractor on the project. “There’s more space on that side to build, and the state was able to acquire right of way.”

Once the new lanes are complete, traffic will be shifted onto them. Then, the team will tear up and replace the existing roadway.

Utility Navigation
Carcel & G has worked in the area (and throughout the state) with ALDOT on multiple occasions. The company knows the engineers, knows what to expect, and feels comfortable working with them.

“We’re well suited for this project as it fits our strengths: moving dirt, grubbing, and concrete,” McDonald said. “We’ve been able to do much of the work ourselves — a 50-50 split between us and our subs.”

Carcel & G knows the area and has a satellite office in Bibb County. This experience is an asset, as they have a sense of the area and the conditions on the ground.

“There’s lots of bad soil in the area, and the clay material can’t support roads,” McDonald said. “This is typical for the area. No matter what you do to identify the soil before construction, you can’t guarantee what you’ll find till you open the ground. Because of the poor soil, there’s been lots of undercutting and hauling away of the bad soil.”

The greatest challenge the team has faced is related to utilities. Like the soil, there was only so much preplanning the team could do. Often, construction teams find utilities along a route that are not detected in preconstruction.

While Carcel & G bid for the job in the winter of 2021, they were unable to start until the fall of 2022. The delay was due to overhead power lines and fiber optic cables. “We planned on starting the job at its southernmost point and going north,” McDonald said. “However, due to there being fewer utilities on the north end [compared to the south], we completely reversed our original plans.”

Clearing of utilities has been an ongoing task throughout the project. “ALDOT has done a great job of pushing the utility companies to move forward on their work,” McDonald said. “The local utility companies have done the best they could, but they’re stretched thin and need approvals from larger corporations that are not in the area.” Moving utilities requires lots of scheduling and is often time-consuming.

Due to utilities dotting the area, Carcel & G has been flexible and found ways to work around the challenge. The company has had up to five work areas set up simultaneously as they dodge the areas where the utilities are still a factor. The scattered work areas have made the job more challenging, but Carcel and G have been able to move the job forward as needed.

There are a few side roads that lead into U.S. 11. The team is straightening them out. “We want to cut down on the number of intersections and roads entering U.S. 11 and put them in areas where there are good sight lines,” McDonald said. “This is a safety measure.” It also means more utility work.

Schedule and Budget
The contract for the project is just over $52 million. Funding for the project is being provided by the federal and state governments, via the traditional 80-20 split.

Construction began at the end of 2022 and is scheduled to conclude at the end of 2026. Note that the project has a working day schedule rather than calendar. Currently, the project is on schedule. McDonald credits the working relationship between the state and the general contractor for keeping the project on track.

“We foresee an overrun on our end, due to not being able to build completely because of utility delays,” McDonald said. “Working on multiple areas simultaneously and skipping is not as productive and more costly.”

When the project is completed, the added lanes along U.S. 11 will improve traffic flow, strengthen commerce, and enhance safety. This will provide a boost for local towns and the growing industrial footprint in the area. The walking trail will give locals another traveling opportunity and meets a community request. The growing area will also provide sufficient infrastructure for Mercedes-Benz.

Project Partners
  • Owner: Alabama Department of Transportation (ALDOT)
  • General Contractor: Carcel & G Construction, Hanceville, Alabama
  • Project Designer: Stantec, Edmonton, Canada
  • Project Engineer: ALDOT
  • Key Subcontractors: APAC-Alabama, Birmingham, Alabama; RJ Whisenant, Houston, Alabama; WENlight Fiber Optic Services, Alabaster, Alabama; Ozark Striping, Ozark, Alabama; Stone & Sons Electrical Contractors, Birmingham, Alabama; Parker Grassing, Opelika, Alabama; Alabama Guardrail, Oneonta, Alabama; Erosion Pros, Auburn, Alabama; Video Industrial Services, Birmingham, Alabama; Superior Traffic Control, LLC, Knoxville, Tennessee
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