The federal government is sending millions of dollars to Alabama to help fund the construction of the $5.5 billion Birmingham Northern Beltline project, a major interstate project on the western edge of the city in Jefferson County.
Construction on the highway started in 2014 but has had several setbacks because of funding and pushback from environmentalists.
"Congress has prioritized completion of the Birmingham Northern Beltline as an essential component of the Appalachian Development Highway System," Tony Harris, a spokesperson of the Alabama Department of Transportation (ALDOT), said in a statement released to Birmingham's WIAT CBS 42 earlier in January.
He added that the grant for the project is "significant," while noting the latest federal appropriations act has $30 million of dedicated funds.
"ALDOT's next activity will connect Alabama Highways 79 and 75; project planning is underway to include design and estimated cost," Harris explained. "No schedule has been set for when the next phase of construction will be ready for bids."
State officials say the proposed 52.5-mi., six-lane corridor, beginning from I-59 in northeast Jefferson County to the I-459 interchange with I-59/I-20 near Bessemer, will enhance cross-region accessibility, create jobs, stimulate economic growth, and respond to existing development, as well as address future traffic growth.
Construction of the long awaited and massive project could restart in spring, AL.com reported.
Birmingham Has Long Worked on Conception
Although the idea for a loop surrounding Birmingham had been discussed since the 1960s, official planning first began three decades later in the early 1990s. Since then, the project has been plagued by constant starts and stops due to various issues.
The most recent of these was a halt in the fall of 2016 after the beltline was not included in the 2018 federal transportation funding bill.
On Jan. 18, AL.com reported the Regional Planning Commission of Greater Birmingham (RPC) projected that more than $1.5 billion of its funding for future projects also will go toward construction of the Northern Beltline.
This accounts for over half of the RPC's leftover funding between now and 2045 after $1.4 billion, or two-thirds of the federal funds, are set aside during that period to maintain what the commission called the region's "rapidly aging infrastructure."
Nearly a decade ago Birmingham's Metropolitan Planning Organization presented a final draft of its 2045 Regional Transportation Plan to the RPC which noted the Northern Beltline would cost almost $3 billion to complete.
This plan, officially adopted in 2020, aims to improve the region's transportation through a 25-year investment plan so that by 2045, the new highway will improve the Birmingham area's overall system safety, and reduce serious injuries and fatalities for all travelers.
Local Officials Look Forward to Beltline
Gardendale Mayor Stan Hogeland told WAIT CBS 42 that the Northern Beltline will be a big benefit to those who work in Jefferson County.
"It'll be easier for people," he said. "Now they can use this route to work [in] downtown [Birmingham]."
Alabama's Coalition for Regional Transportation also said the Northern Beltline will bring $2 billion to the state economy and nearly 21,000 jobs once completed.
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