On the surface, the changes taking place at Redstone Arsenal's gates may look to drivers like a move toward modernization.

Although modernization is certainly one objective of the renovations, for security personnel working for the Directorate of Emergency Services the changes also represent a move toward additional safety and security for the entire Redstone Arsenal community.

With this week's opening of the new Gate 1 on Martin Road, Arsenal employees will get a driver's view of the new gate house, guard booths, overhead canopy, curbing, speed humps, truck bypass and emergency traffic signals. What they won't see is the steel cable grab-it net that has been installed just underneath the road surface that can be instantly activated to stop vehicles from entering or exiting the Arsenal.

"All of our gates will eventually have this modern new appearance," said Phil Harrell, director of Emergency Services. "It is a standard Department of the Army design that has been used by our Directorate of Public Works and its contractors, and certified by the Corps of Engineers."

The opening of the new Gate 1 is good news for Redstone Arsenal employees who have endured additional traffic congestion caused by the cumbersome serpentine security barriers that have existed at the temporary Gate 1 entrance for several months. Instead of barriers, drivers now only must contend with speed humps as they enter the gate area. In addition, trucks will not be required to re-enter Gate 1 traffic after being processed for entry, but will instead enter through a truck bypass and merge into Martin Road traffic beyond the gate.

Yet, drivers are still having to contend with additional traffic congestion at Gate 10 on Patton Road because of the closure of Gate 8 at Goss Road, which is under construction and set to reopen June 9 with its existing guard house renovated, a new canopy and other modernization features installed.

Once Gate 8 reopens, plans call for closing Gate 10 at Patton Road in July. The closure is expected to last four months as Gate 10 undergoes a complete upgrade.

"Gate 10 is the only gate we have right now that does not have an overhead awning. It will get an entirely new gate house, awning, guard booths and all the other features," Harrell said.

Other changes at Gate 10 will include the closing of Hercules Road that connects Zeus and Patton roads in front of Redstone Lanes. That segment of the road will be closed to accommodate space needed by the gate's new grab net and emergency traffic lights.

Future plans call for the renovation of Gate 7 on west Martin Road, but those plans will not be executed until widening plans for the road are finalized.

"It's a project that is being worked out right now between the local government and Redstone Arsenal," Harrell said. "It's all based on getting funding. There is no timetable right now."

While Gate 9 at Research Park Boulevard/Rideout Road was the first gate to be modernized, future plans call for it to be moved further south to accommodate changes created by the enhanced use-lease program that will put Arsenal land under commercial development.

Because of the commercial development, security fencing will be moved so that the developed land is outside the Arsenal's secured area. That will also result in the move of Gate 9, the construction of a new visitor's center and the creation of an additional gate at the west end of Goss Road. A timetable for this project has not yet been determined.

The Arsenal's other accessible gate -- Gate 3 on Redstone Road - has already undergone renovation.

Harrell and Police Chief Arthur Riley are especially pleased with the new gate security measures. While Gate 10 and 7 are still using road blades that work as a deterrent by slashing car tires of offending drivers, the new gates are all equipped with grab-it nets.

"The net is made of steel cables two inches thick at the top and bottom," Harrell said. "They are designed to have some give to cushion the blow but still stop and hold a vehicle."

Once they are used, the grab-it nets can be lowered and driven over. But some maintenance is required to fully secure them back into place.

"We raise and lower them every day to test them," Riley said.

"If they get hit, they won't always lay back down properly. So, maintenance has to do some minor adjustments to make them lay smooth."

The emergency traffic lights being installed at the new gates will be used to notify and stop drivers when the grab-it net is being used.

In addition, the installation of speed humps is a necessary safety measure designed to get drivers to slow down going in and out of the gates, Harrell said.

Besides providing safer access to the Arsenal, the new gates offer security guards a professional and efficient working environment.

"The working environment at the new gates is much better for our security guards," Harrell said. "At Gate 1, they have a wide area of glass that makes it easier to see traffic approaching the gate. The guard booths are heated and cooled."

Harrell and Riley caution drivers to be patient and cooperative while gates are under construction. Traffic surveys are done often, and changes are made when needed to improve traffic flow. They are aware of congestion hot spots on the Arsenal.

"We don't have unlimited resources to open up every gate," Harrell said. "We all have to cooperate to ensure we have the proper amount of security for this installation. When a gate is closed on Redstone Arsenal, it affects other gates."

Recently, complaints have been received concerning the congestion at Gate 10 on Patton Road.

"Right now, we are seeing congestion at Gate 10 during the afternoon hours when drivers are leaving the Arsenal," Riley said. "Some of that is caused by drivers on Hercules Road trying to turn left into the traffic flow. It's causing a little back up or slow down. But that is to be expected anytime you are doing a lot of construction. Drivers have got to expect that it's going to be slow."

Riley suggests drivers trying to get access to Patton Road near Gate 10 should use the traffic light at Aerobee Road to make a left into the traffic flow. Another alternative would be to use Honest John Road.

With 48,000-plus cars coming and going on Redstone Arsenal every day, there will be some delays at the gates. But there are some things drivers can do to speed up entry to the Arsenal.

"Have your badge ready, don't stop to talk to the guards and move on when you are directed to. The slightest delay affects everybody," Riley said.

"Some people wait until the last minute to get to work. You need to plan for the time it takes to get in the gate. You need to limit your lane changes."

There are a number of things that create slow downs at the gates, Riley said. The current need for security, major construction at one or more gates, the addition of on-site conferences and training programs, traffic accidents both inside and outside a gate, drivers not being prepared to show a badge, drivers who are lost or confused, and drivers who don't follow directions can all cause gate delays.

"Drivers have to be patient and just accept that it's part of the post-9/11 world. It used to be you could easily drive right onto the Arsenal. Those days are gone," Harrell said.

"Because we are a DoD installation, we're a terrorist target more so than other areas in North Alabama and we have to take precautions. We can't be complacent."

Page last updated Fri July 22nd, 2011 at 12:16