Khanh Nguyen is spending a good portion of her day on a renovation project inside a home she and her husband, Dan, recently bought at the corner of Dauphin Street and McGregor Avenue in west Mobile.
But Nguyen admits she knew little about the major reconstruction project that will be going on in her front yard sometime within the next two years.
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The largest roundabout in the city of Mobile – coined the “mother of all roundabouts” by one council member — will be a stone’s toss from her home’s front door.
Before then, construction crews working on Mobile’s next major city road construction project will use the intersection as a staging area for equipment.
“We are hoping for the best,” said Nguyen, a commercial Realtor. “We don’t want to move anymore.”
Indeed, residents and business owners up and down two different sections of McGregor are preparing for two years of road closures, detours, and the banging of concrete.
Mobile City Councilman Joel Daves warns that residents should brace for “misery” in the months ahead, and the city’s administration is already warning people to avoid the area once construction begins in early 2023. The road will be home of two major road projects, both which are separate from one another, starting in January.
Here’s what they can expect:
- A rebuild and streetscape project is set to begin after the new year and will extend from Old Shell Road north to the Museum Drive roundabout. The project is being financed by the city of Mobile ($2 million for the roadwork, drainage, sidewalks, and lighting) and $1.5 million to $2 million on water and sewer work paid by the Mobile Area Water and Sewer System.
- A major overhaul of the road from Dauphin Street south to Airport Boulevard. Project estimate is $15 million. It is being financed with 80% federal money, with the local match coming from Mobile County’s Pay As You Go road construction program. Part of the project includes the roundabout at Dauphin and McGregor, which is expected to be the largest in Mobile once it is completed, sometime in either late 2024 or early 2025. The city classifies the project as a “complete rebuild” of McGregor that will include additional turn lanes, sidewalks, lighting, drainage, etc.
Mobile City Engineer Nick Amberger said he anticipates the southern portion of McGregor’s project, which will be completed sometime in the spring of 2025, becoming a traffic headache during construction. He’s already worried about cut-through traffic occurring during construction and becoming an impediment for the residents who live in the well-groomed neighborhoods surrounding McGregor.
“I encourage people during construction, that if you don’t live on that corridor or are not visiting a friend for some reason, or conducting business for some reason, to find another way,” Amberger said. “Find another route. We don’t want to put an extra burden on the neighbors.”
Northern stretch: Old Shell Road to Museum Drive
For now, the city is preparing to begin work on the northern end where James and Vickie Bowden, both 78 years old, have lived on McGregor Avenue for 42 years of their 51-year marriage.
“Nothing has really changed,” said James Bowden, referring to the established neighborhood that surrounds their home. “Except for the traffic.”
The Bowdens live on the northerly stretch of McGregor that is scheduled for new sidewalks and a resurfaced road in the coming months.
“We’ve been hearing about it for the past two years, but they haven’t done anything yet,” said James Bowden.
Amberger said there will be a lot of underground water and sewer line work that needs to be finished before the roadwork can begin. The work, he said, includes renovating portions of the road to make it more pedestrian friendly, and building new sidewalks that stretch from a shopping center near Old Shell Road to Museum Drive.
“There are some pieces and parts of sidewalks on one side of the road that have been there for a long time and are kind of stitched together,” Amberger said. “They were never built at one time as one, clean and continuous route.”
Amberger said the northern portion of work on McGregor will go on for about 12 months, ending in early 2024.
“I would not characterize this portion as a complete rebuild, but it’s a substantial rebuild and a reallocating of lanes and widening (of lanes) in some sports, and new curbs and gutters and resurfacing,” he said. “It’s somewhere between a streetscape (with sidewalks and pedestrian walkways) and a full rebuild.”
The Village of Spring Hill has been pushing the project since 2018. Spring Hill is an unincorporated group of Mobile residents who, in 2006, formed the organization that is aimed at beautifying and improving a section of west Mobile that includes portions of McGregor.
Linda St. John, the village’s president, said the project was initially estimated to cost around $1.5 million. Over the past five years, however, she said the costs increased.
St. John and Councilwoman Gina Gregory have said they would like to see the roadwork extended north to Spring Hill Avenue.
But for now, the improvements will traverse through a mixed residential and commercial area.
Some business owners say they are unaware of what to expect. That included Leah Jeffreys, an esthetician with Leah’s Place – a small business adjacent to a Rouses grocery store that recently underwent its own reconstruction. Jeffreys, who has been in business for 10 years, said the improvements will be welcomed. She noted that pedestrians are often unsure where to cross a section of McGregor that attracts over 11,800 vehicles per day, according to the Alabama Department of Transportation.
St. John said the Village of Spring Hill has been updating the project and its progress for the past five years in the correspondence it sends out to the community.
“As with all construction projects, there will be traffic delays but I think the City has done an excellent job of rerouting traffic through all infrastructure projects in the Village,” said St. John. “We always coordinate with the city to alert the Spring Hill community on detours determined by them for a heads up.”
Major overhaul: Airport to Dauphin
Communication will be key for alerting residents and motorists to the major overhaul of McGregor south near Airport Boulevard.
Daves, the councilman who represents the stretch of road, is stressing patience once the project commences during the spring 2023. Bid requests for the McGregor work are expected to be released next month.
Amberger said he anticipates “physical construction” starting in March 2023, and for the road to be shut down during most of the duration.
“We will do everything we can to make it easier on everyone,” said Daves. “We will meet with the people in the neighborhoods and have a traffic management plan and make it easier for people to get to their houses.”
Amberger said the project is paid for primarily with federal funds dedicated through the Mobile Metropolitan Planning Organization, which is assigned to allocating federal transportation funds to high-priority projects.
He said he anticipates construction costs at $11 million. He said about $2.5 million has already been spent on real estate acquisitions that includes 43 parcels or pieces of land acquired along the stretch of McGregor to accommodate the project. Another $1 million is being spent on design, he said.
The project includes the construction of a dedicated right turn lane on McGregor as it approaches Airport Boulevard adjacent to the Pinebrook Shopping Center. Currently, there is no right turn from McGregor, and westbound airport traffic can back up along the street and create extended traffic jams that block entrances into nearby residential neighborhoods like Wimbeldon Park.
“That area feels tight, and it will get much needed relief and it will get widened,” said Amberger. He said the right turn lane from McGregor will be widened as it approaches Airport. ALDOT estimates over 19,000 vehicles travel along McGregor near Airport.
Another part of the improvement will be a realignment of nearby Berwyn Drive, which is east of McGregor and across from the entrance to Wimbeldon Park.
“It’s been, unfortunately, a challenging intersection for a long time,” said Amberger. “We plan to line it up and have it function much better. A signal will be able to control it all. It’s been an awkward intersection.”
Donald English, 68, has lived within the Wimbeldon Park subdivision since 2016, and he is used to the traffic hassles that he and his neighbors encounter whenever they drive out of the subdivision that is tucked behind the Pinebrook Shopping Center.
“I think everyone is aware here and understands there will be changes made,” English said. “We just don’t know when or for how long this will happen. But I’m all for progress.”
Amberger said he anticipates the road improvement occurring first near English’s subdivision before extending north toward the new roundabout, which will be the last part of the project.
“The second phase will be the widening of and the work up along McGregor between the shopping centers and the (new) roundabout,” he said. “Some of the phases will overlap with one another as the contractor is able to work in certain areas and as the work progress.”
Amberger and Daves said the challenge for the city will be to keep residents informed. Daves said a website could be a good idea. The city, during the duration of the Broad Street work, kept the public updated on the construction work via a website. The city’s new texting service for Mobile residents – TextMyGov – includes a specific notification for McGregor Avenue updates.
“The best advice I can give people, unless you live on the corridor and have to go through there, is to find other ways,” Amberger said.
“We’ll do as much outreach and notices as we can and will get support (from Mobile police) to enforce cut through traffic through the neighborhoods.”
Daves said providing timely information to residents is going to be crucial, especially during a project that is going to be a significant inconvenience to people living in the area.
The councilman also said that the project, once completed, will make McGregor an attractive and pedestrian friendly street that can accommodate the heavy traffic that currently flows through the area.
“The bottom line is that when this whole thing is finished, you will have curb and gutter and sidewalks from Spring Hill Avenue to Airport,” he said.