Limestone braces for more traffic near MTM and Amazon

·5 min read

Oct. 24—Traffic has increased the Greenbrier area since operations began at Mazda Toyota Manufacturing and the Amazon fulfillment center, but additional road improvements are planned to handle even more motorists as land for future development gets marketed and companies add workers.

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The MTM plant began production Sept. 30 in Huntsville-annexed Limestone County. The nearby Amazon site "officially began operation this month," according to company spokesperson Nikki Forman.

Both operations have increased the traffic volume on Greenbrier Parkway and Old Highway 20. Frankie Morris, who has lived at his residence on Old Highway 20 for 27 years, said that due to the increased traffic, he has already bought another house and is selling his.

He said traffic picks up when shifts are beginning or ending.

"It's non-stop," said Morris. "From about 3 in the afternoon till 6:30 or so, it's a nightmare." Morris said traffic is also heavy in the morning starting at about 5:30 a.m.

Jerry Evans owns Greenbrier Restaurant and said he also noticed that traffic gets busy when employees are leaving between 3:30 and 6 p.m.

"You've got to remember, Mazda Toyota has half the employees they're going to have eventually, and of course they're just staffing up at Amazon. So, you know, it's going to get worse." However, Evans said that traffic is not severely congested at this time.

According to Forman, "We're not aware of any concerns related to traffic. However, we will be opening a second entrance to our facility in the coming weeks."

Forman said the Amazon "site has hired hundreds of people, and there are hundreds of opportunities still available." The company said earlier this year that the facility would have 500 employees.

MTM officials said when production began that they had about 2,300 employees and eventually will add as many as 1,700.

Employee traffic is not the only traffic that has picked up, said Morris. He said 18-wheelers for Amazon are constantly driving by.

According to Sydney Martin, communication specialist with the Huntsville Police Department, MTM has hired off-duty officers since August to conduct traffic control at its plant during shift change. However, she said MTM does not hire them every week.

Huntsville Council President John Meredith said he was unaware of any traffic issues in the city's annexed portions of southeast Limestone but will request information from the city's police department and residents of that area.

"The City of Huntsville is definitely engaged in the tapestry of roads out there and making sure that it can support both the business, the industrial side, moving the semis and the heavy (vehicles) that need to go through there, as well as the employees," Meredith said.

Road projects

Limestone County has applied for grants for road work for industrial access expansion, according to District 3 Commissioner Jason Black. If Limestone County receives the grants, it will install a couple of turn lanes and put in a light at Mooresville Road and Old Highway 20, said Black.

"Then we're looking at resurfacing Mooresville and widening it from the Huntsville Brownsferry crossroads, all the way to (Interstate) 565," according to Black.

Black said he hopes to hear in the next two to three weeks about the grants.

To help with traffic flow to industry in southeast Limestone County, the Alabama Department of Transportation is widening Huntsville Brownsferry Road to four lanes with a fifth center turn lane between U.S. 31 and Interstate 65, and widening the I-65 overpass to accommodate the extra lanes, said Seth Burkett, spokesperson for ALDOT.

Evans said his restaurant's business has remained steady with the Amazon and MTM facilities opening. He said hourly employees at MTM only get half an hour for lunch. "By the time they get to their car, if they have 30 minutes for lunch, to walk that big plant, they've already spent their 30 minutes."

There are two cafeterias inside MTM, said Evans, but sometimes the employees that work in the office will come into his restaurant for lunch.

For sale signs

The majority of what was once farmland in the area, now has for sale signs.

"Some of that land out there, 10 years ago, was worth $5,000 an acre," Black said. "Now they're selling it for $35,000 to $50,000 an acre. What it once was, to be purchased for crop ground, is now being purchased for industries."

Officials say the southeast portion of the county has been marketed for years for development, and increased traffic is not a surprise.

Lucia Cape, senior vice president of Economic Development and Workforce for the Huntsville/Madison County Chamber, said, "The Huntsville/Limestone area was master planned in 2011 for industrial development, and the Chamber worked with TVA to certify the Greenbrier mega site in 2016 that became Mazda Toyota."

The purpose of the preparation was to be ready for industrial projects, said Cape. She adds that that is exactly what happened.

According to Morris, he has had plenty of offers on his property, but no one wants the house with it. He said if it comes down to it, he will move the house onto his new land and just sell the land on Old Highway 20.

The Huntsville/Madison chamber continues to work to attract new industries to that area. "The Chamber's role in economic development is to prepare, develop and promote the community for growth, so these projects are exactly what we have been working toward," said Cape.

—erica.smith@decaturdaily.com or 256-340-2460.

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