The widening of Ross Clark Circle is coming. Wiregrass motorists will have to learn a new way of driving when it gets here.

The public got a first look at preliminary plans for the next phase of Ross Clark Circle improvements Tuesday night. Construction for the $40 million project is not expected to begin until late 2016 or early 2017 and the phase is expected to take more than two years to complete.

Highlights from the preliminary plans include:

  • The project will stretch from the intersection of Ross Clark Circle and U.S. 231 North to Bauman Drive. The plans call for six lanes of traffic for the entire length of the project.
  • Concrete medians with dedicated left-only turn lanes are a feature throughout the length of the project, similar to the current configuration on Highway 231 North.
  • Turns out of many heavily-trafficked areas including Northside Mall and Shops on The Circle will be right-only turns. There will be no straight-across access to Northside Mall and Shops on the Circle, and vice versa. Motorists wishing to access Shops on the Circle from Northside Mall will have to go to the traffic signal at Sam’s to make a U-Turn. Motorists wishing to access Northside Mall from Shops on the Circle will have to go to the traffic signal at the circle and U.S. 231 North and make a U-Turn.
  • There will be three dedicated left turn lanes from Ross Clark Circle onto U.S. 231 North. There are currently only two.
  • The preliminary plans call for nine additional traffic signals throughout the length of the project. Some of the signals will replace existing signals and actually reduce red-light time. Consultants believe the additional signals will not impede the flow of traffic to a slower pace than currently exists. Consultants say that the introduction of left-only lanes in the medians and right-only exits from businesses will reduce signal time and keep traffic flowing. The two main traffic signals at U.S. 231 North and Ross Clark Circle and West Main Street and Ross Clark Circle will act as gatekeepers for the additional traffic signals. Ideally, the signals will be configured to optimal traffic flow.

“I’m proud we’re at this point,” Dothan Mayor Mike Schmitz said. “We know it’s going to be a long and difficult process but we also know that it is needed and has been needed for a long time.”

Tuesday’s public meeting was held to gain input from the public. Alabama Department of Transportation Division 7 Engineer Mike Griffin said public comments could lead to tweaks in the design.

“This is the first full look for a lot of us as well,” Griffin said. “We have already picked up on a couple of things we didn’t like.”

While the primary project calls for the widening from Bauman Drive to U.S. 231 North, a portion of the Circle will be widened beginning this year. Griffin said work on the small section of Ross Clark Circle between Bauman Drive and Fortner Street could begin as early as December. A culvert repair/rehabilitation is slated for the area and workers will use the opportunity to add lanes there.

Right of way acquisition for the main project is expected to begin soon, with work slated for 2016-17.

“It’s going to take patience on everyone’s part,” Griffin said. “I like to say it’s just like baking a cake or pie. It takes time.”

A third phase of circle improvements from Fortner Street to U.S. 231 South is planned, but not slated for a specific timer period.

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