By Jonathan Hardison
HOOVER, AL (WBRC) - The mayors and city councils from Birmingham and Hoover met together to Thursday night to hear ALDOT's plan for the future of Highway 280 and ask questions about the elevated and expanded toll road plan.
Birmingham and Hoover are the two largest cities in Jefferson County, but they rarely have come together to talk about anything affecting both of their cities. However, the expansion of Highway 280 is such a big issue, both mayors said they wanted to get together to hear what the Alabama Department of Transportation had to say about the roadway's future and talk about what these two cities think about those ideas.
ALDOT's district chief engineer spelled out Thursday night the agency's plan to add four toll road express lanes between Red Mtn. Expressway and I-459 and elevate those express lanes above the current road from I-459 to Double Oak Mountain.
That plan received criticism when presented to Birmingham's city council on Tuesday, in part because Birmingham councilors were concerned the plan did nothing for mass transit.
But Thursday, ALDOT's planners said they would be open to allowing MAX buses to ride the toll road for free, offering a chance to expand the mass transit service, and said the road plan would leave enough right of way to one day lay light rail tracks. That sounded appealing to Birmingham's mayor.
"There may be some opportunity for us to look at how we can build the infrastructure for mass transit," Mayor William Bell said. "Be it light rail or increased rubber vehicles along the way to deal with that. This may be an opportunity we can't afford to pass up when we look at the finances."
Bell suggested raising the proposed toll from 25 cents a mile to 30 cents a mile and using that additional funding to build light rail tracks into the new road system.
Thursday's meeting was the Hoover city council's first chance to see details of the plan, and Hoover's mayor said staging this joint meeting emphasizes the need for all five cities along the Highway 280 corridor to work together as they decide within a month or two whether to endorse this plan.
"We have to look at it from the city of Hoover's perspective, but also the entire region," Mayor Tony Petelos said. "We have a lot of businesses on 280 and residents down the 280 corridor."
"Mayor Petelos and I are friends, and when I was elected to the position of mayor, we both committed to trying to work together to improve the entire region," Bell said. "When we heard about this project, I felt this was the beginning of a long relationship we can start on a positive note."
A group opposing ALDOT's plan will present their alternative to both city councils in early April.
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