I-20/59 closed for more than a year

Published 4:48 pm Thursday, January 24, 2019


BIRMINGHAM — Traffic through Alabama’s largest city won’t be normal for months as the state’s busiest road closed for a construction project beginning on Jan. 21.

Crews building a replacement for Interstate 59/20 through downtown Birmingham closed the highway beginning the night of Jan. 21, though some ramps closed the previous week.

State officials say the highway carries more traffic than any other road in Alabama. The new interstate won’t open for more than a year, and construction costs are expected to exceed $700 million.

The shutdown affects the more than 1-mile-long section of I-59/20 from Red Mountain Expressway to Interstate 65. Transportation officials are encouraging drivers to use Interstate 459 to bypass the construction zone, and they’re laid out suggested detours on a website about the project.

Some drivers already are bracing for major backups.

“It’s going to be a terrible headache for the next year and two months. We’ve got to take all these different kind of routes, and traffic is going to be extremely, extremely complicated,” trucker Louis Coachman told WBRC-TV.

Local residents on Thursday, Jan. 24, said it was too early to tell if the closure will affect traffic as far away as U.S. 280 in North Shelby County.

Jessica Brown of Inverness Animal Clinic said she had not experienced significant changes in her morning commute to work, which takes between five minutes and 20 minutes from her home in Meadow Brook, depending on the day.

“It’s 280—it’s always bad, let’s be honest,” Brown said and added that a wreck at the intersection of U.S. 280 and Meadow Brook Road on the first day of the road closure did not help matters.

J.D. Vibert of Inverness Outdoors said his wife’s evening commute had been busier than normal. It took her more than an hour to travel from Lakeshore Drive to Meadow Brook on Jan. 24.

Vibert’s morning commute, meanwhile, has not seemed worse than usual.

“The mornings kind of always stink,” he said.

State and city transportation officials say they will make traffic adjustments as needed.

“At some intersections where we are expecting increased volume we might add an additional turn lane or change how the lanes approach those intersections,” said James Fowler, director of the Birmingham Department of Transportation.

The project is replacing elevated highways built more than 45 years ago to accommodate 80,000 vehicles daily. Transportation officials say I-59/20 currently carries more than twice that number of vehicles.

Longtime trucker Roderic Rhodes said he isn’t too worried about the shutdown because he already has planned out his alternate routes.

“It’s not going to be tough. You just have to take time to pre-plan your routes and just go from there. Just takes a lot of pre-planning instead of just going from where you normally go,” Rhodes said.

Staff Writer Stephen Dawkins contributed to this report.