This summer, Oxford officials hope to begin work on a multi-million-dollar road project to address chronic traffic congestion near Oxford Exchange and Choccolocco Park.
Preliminary work for the widening of Leon Smith Parkway south of Interstate 20 is down to the bidding phase, the last step before groundbreaking, Oxford city engineer Rusty Gann said Thursday.
He said he hoped to have construction underway by the end of summer, though there was no guarantee of the timeline. There won’t be any detours, he said; traffic will continue to use the roads even as road crews work.
The road widening will cost upward of $11 million, Gann said. The Alabama Department of Transportation will foot about $7 million of the cost and the city will manage the rest.
The project has been in the works for almost a decade, a period spent procuring the rights-of-way and engineering the widening of two bridges.
“About 70 percent of the cost is that,” Gann said of the bridge expansions. “You’re essentially building a bridge on each side of the existing bridges.”
The city recently cleared work with utility providers after checking for conflicts with existing services, Gann said, so the city is waiting for ALDOT’s approval to advertise bidding and hire a contractor.
When it’s finished, the expansion will include:
— Dedicated lanes to enter the Oxford Exchange and the Oxford Commons. “The ease of getting in and out of the Exchange will be a big change,” Gann said.
— An additional right-turn lane leaving the Exchange.
— The southbound lane that currently ends in front of Publix will continue south. “That tends to be a bottleneck,” Gann observed.
— Widened bridges beside Home Depot and over Choccolocco Creek.
— An additional turn lane exiting Choccolocco Park.
The two-lane road has stood for nearly two decades as a testament to former Oxford Mayor Leon Smith’s shrewd business sense — and mythical stubbornness.
The Oxford City Council approved work by Tennessee-based traffic management firm GRIDSMART Technologies during its Tuesday night meeting, which should help keep cars moving smoothly on and off the parkway.
When planning began for the Eastern Bypass in the late 1990s, Smith held the project up for a few years (and through a few governors) to ensure his two demands, he told The Star in 2002: A street-level interchange at U.S. 78 and an extension of the parkway a few miles south of Oxford, where he envisioned a mall or industrial park and a sports complex.
“I wasn’t against the Eastern Parkway,” Smith said at the time, “but I wasn’t going to let it kill the interchange I have.”
Smith had foreseen the Oxford Exchange, Oxford Commons and Choccolocco Park, but the realization of those projects also resulted in traffic demands beyond the parkway’s capacity.
Gann was out of his office and didn’t have traffic numbers on hand, he said, but anecdotally, he said, traffic has been tight along the parkway. The expansion will help solve that, he explained, making shopping and trips to Choccolocco Park events like tournaments and the annual Festival of Lights a much simpler proposition.
“We know there’s going to be inconvenience, but we’re going to do everything in our power to keep traffic moving as smoothly as we can,” Gann said. “It’s going to be a complex project but the end result will be worth it.”