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Last fall, we wrote a blog post about the enhancement projects that were taking place on Cahaba Road. After months of hard work collaborating with the City of Birmingham, ALDOT, the Birmingham Zoo and the Birmingham Botanical Gardens, we are so pleased that construction is complete and the project has been received so positively by the community.
We mentioned in our previous post that there were four main goals of the project: 1) Bicycle and pedestrian accommodations and safety; 2) Aesthetics; 3) Gateway to the Birmingham Zoo using a roundabout and 4) Keep improvements within the right of way. We were successful in accomplishing each of these goals, and at the ribbon cutting ceremony, the Zoo, Gardens and City made comments about how the project allows for pedestrian movement between the Gardens and Zoo, therefore linking Birmingham’s two most visited attractions.
The project started with a vision of providing pedestrian and bicycle accommodations along the corridor while also enhancing and beautifying it. We planned to do this by reducing the pavement width (typically called a “road diet”), adding landscaping and lighting and maintaining as much of the existing tree canopy as possible. We also hoped to improve the Zoo entrance to provide a grander gateway entry point. We teamed with Nimrod Long and Associates who helped us put the vision down on paper, and we developed several options for the layout.
We were involved from this very early stage to the very end, providing a wide variety of services that included a concept phase, surveying and design and construction engineering and inspection (CE&I).
Concept Phase. In this early stage we prepared multiple concepts and worked with a stakeholder group that included representatives from the City, ALDOT, Zoo and Gardens who gave valuable input into their wants and needs for the project. Each stakeholder brought experience from their field to the table. A lot of collaborative teamwork between the stakeholders and design team went into the concept before we settled on the layout that has been constructed. During design, the stakeholder group continued to be involved and assisted us in any way possible to keep the project moving.
Surveying and Design. This phase involved field survey, property research, preparing plans, and coordinating plan reviews through ALDOT’s required process for obtaining final approval.
Construction Engineering and Inspection (CE&I). During the construction phase we performed inspections to verify materials and installation methods were consistent with the design plans and ALDOT specifications. The construction contract was also administered to review material submittals, track quantities, process payments, validate contractually required documentation, coordinate with utilities, and coordinate with the Zoo and Gardens.
There were many entities involved in this project: ALDOT as the agent for the federal funds, the City of Birmingham as the owner, Veterans Construction as the contractor, the Zoo and Gardens as affected property owners and businesses, Alagasco and Alabama Power as impacted utilities and then, of course, the motorists on the road who had their own thoughts and opinions about construction.
It’s not uncommon for us to work with a large group of stakeholders on a design project. The ability to negotiate meeting the needs and vision of various stakeholders requires strong collaboration and communication skills. When questions or concerns arise, we always try to get them resolved quickly and keep all parties informed.
As with all projects, Cahaba Road had some peculiarities that required attention. There was very limited room for constructing improvements on the Gardens side. One particular area is near the intersection of Lane Park Road where a retaining wall was required in order to accommodate the sidewalk improvements. The contractor had very limited room, just a couple of feet, in order to install the wall.
During survey and design, we discovered that the right of way for Cahaba Road had never been deeded. The Zoo, the Gardens and the road are City properties, therefore the City did not have a need to deed the road when it was first constructed. But since the improvement project was utilizing federal funds, the road had to be deeded as public road right of way which needed to be done in short order.
When it came to construction, things did not always go perfectly. It was discovered that the gas line that had been relocated right after the design phase was not relocated to the correct location. This meant that it had to be moved again. It was a challenge, but we coordinated with the contractor and Alagasco to keep work proceeding as much as possible, and in the end, the final product was worth the time it took to correct this problem.
This final product is a big improvement aesthetically. The previous corridor was an unattractive expanse of asphalt, but now joggers and pedestrians are enjoying wide sidewalks underneath a beautiful tree canopy, and they can walk safety between Mountain Brook Village and English Village.
In addition to the Zoo gateway that was enhanced with the roundabout, the Gardens will be making improvements to their walking entrance at the roundabout so visitors can walk between the two attractions. Our hope is that these improvements will help bring even more visitors to these two popular attractions, making them a more exciting combined destination, not just two separate parks.
It was a proud and exciting moment when we attended the ribbon cutting ceremony that was recently held. We hope these improvements will have a positive impact on our community for years to come.
*Photo courtesy al.com