I-65 to widen through county

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, February 7, 2006

Drivers making their way north along Interstate 65 through Shelby County could soon find themselves with a little breathing room.

Alabama Department of Transportation officials announced that they will begin work early this summer to widen the state&8217;s largest interstate from the Shelby County Airport in Calera to north of Birmingham near Gardendale.

The construction will add four lanes to the road and will likely include some form of a high occupancy lane.

Alabama Department of Transportation&8217;s special assistant to the director Tony Harris said the expansions will help decrease the amount of traffic and commute times traveling into the Birmingham metropolitan area.

&8220;When construction is finished, commutes during peak travel times will be easier for drivers,&8221; Harris said.

State officials said construction will begin with the stretch of interstate between Valleydale Road and Shelby County Highway 52, followed by the lanes between Highway 52 and Highway 31 in Alabaster.

The third stretch will be completed between Highway 31 and Shelby County Highway 87 in Calera.

Harris said that Shelby County was high on the list of areas needing interstate expansion.

&8220;Plans to widen interstates are based on traffic counts and there are several areas around Alabama warranting widening,&8221; he said.

&8220;Shelby County and the Birmingham metro area are certainly part of that list.&8221;

New high occupancy lanes, or HOV, will likely be set between Highway 119 and Highway 31, but the state is yet to decide what form those lanes will take.

The state planning commission recently dedicated $500,000 dollars to examining what type of HOV lane would best suit drivers&8217; needs.

The types of lanes being considered include a high-occupancy vehicle lane, a high-occupancy toll lane or a high-occupancy bus lane.

The study is scheduled to last six months leading up to the beginning of project construction.

Harris warned, however, that the impending construction will result in temporary delays until the improvements are finished.

&8220;The process that is required to achieve these easier commutes will result in some short-term delays,&8221; he said. &8220;That&8217;s important for people to understand early on.&8221;

Harris advised drivers to find alternate routes or change their work schedule during the construction.

Other DOT construction plans for Shelby County this year include an interchange re-configuration for the Valleydale Road intersection with Interstate 65 in Pelham.

Improvements to that junction should include re-pavement and extra lighting, signs and traffic signals