BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WIAT) – There’s a proposal being considered by the Alabama Department of Transportation that could impact anyone who takes the interstate into downtown Birmingham. The plan is to take down two existing ramps and move them elsewhere.
ALDOT planners say it will streamline traffic through the heart of the city, but not everyone is pleased.
From Red Mountain Expressway to “Malfunction Junction” there are two on-ramps and two off-ramps into from the interstate into Birmingham and with so many people merging on and exiting from the interstate ALDOT says there is too much going on in a short stretch of road. The I-20/59 project will move some of that traffic further down to provide some more space.
The plan would eliminate the 17th Street Exit and on ramp from I-20/59 and reroute the exits to Eleventh Avenue North on the other side of the BJCC. ALDOT Division Three engineer Brian Davis says it will cause drivers an additional 45 seconds or so to get into and out of Birmingham from that area, but he thinks it will help traffic flow overall.
According to Davis, the City of Birmingham had in its master plan at one time the idea of burying the interstate there. “We told them it would never work,” said Davis.
He said it would be too expensive and is not geometrically possible because would require Red Mountain Expressway traffic to plunge 50 feet down then climb 50 feet back up at a steep angle.
Some drivers who rely on the 17th street exit say getting rid of it is a mistake.
“It’s going to make it worse because a lot of people that work in Birmingham don’t know their way around Birmingham and so you’re going to be creating an even bigger problem for the people that don’t know,” said William Lawhorn.
At some point the work will require taking down the bridge and rerouting traffic to I-65 and I-459, according to Davis.
“That’s going to be bad,” said Lawhorn. “If you have an accident you might be on the freeway an extra hour and a half you know.”
Davis says the first phase will be to build the 11th Avenue North corridor and then connect it to the interstate. That is slated to start in late 2014.
Once that is near completion phase two of the project will be to build the bridge.
That is slated to begin in late 2015.
Even in that phase he says much of that work will involve precast construction where parts of the bridge are built offsite then transported onsite and put together.
“You can begin that before you ever take traffic off the bridge,” said Davis.
Loft District resident Gwen Amamoo hopes that traffic engineers will find an alternative to the current plan for I-20/59 through that part of Birmingham.
“Because that 17th Street Exit really exits to the heart of downtown Birmingham, the Magic City really, you go there to go to the 4th Avenue District, you go to the financial district,” said Amamoo. “You don’t want to eliminate people having easy access to that part of town.”
Brian Davis says they are considering public input about potential changes to the plan, but right now the work is slated to start in late 2014. The exits most likely wouldn’t close for over a year later.
With the recent work on I-20, and projects underway on I-459 and Highway 280, ALDOT has a lot of projects happening simultaneously in Central Alabama. Why not space it out?
Road construction funding coming out of Washington D.C. based on gasoline tax and sales is much lower than it was several years ago due to expensive gas and more efficient cars, according to Davis. He says he’s pleased that there is this much happening in the area, and says several of these jobs should have gone to contract years ago. He’s confident drivers will be happy when the work is finished.
More updates from ALDOT per Davis:
I-459 lane improvements are underway and will take several months to complete.
The next phase of construction on I-20 will close the west bound lanes from Leeds to Birmingham starting around July 7th-8th.