BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP) The new year may take the state Transportation Department in a different direction: toll roads.
State Transportation Director Joe McInnes said that in 2008, he wants to begin building elevated lanes on U.S. 280 east of Interstate 459 in Birmingham.
McInnes said the project is likely to require the use of tolls. But he called the project “critical” to addressing growing congestion on the popular — and heavily commercial — route from Shelby County to Jefferson County.
Currently, Alabama has four privately developed bridges that require tolls, but no highways.
As part of the Transportation Department’s planning, U.S. 280 drivers in Shelby County will be surveyed in early 2008 on the origins and destinations of their 280 trips, The Birmingham News reported.
The survey is part of a study by Figg Engineering Co. of Tallahassee, Fla., for proposed elevated lanes from I-459 to Double Oak Mountain. The study will detail how to get elevated 280 traffic to tie in to I-459. It will also determine how to pay for the elevated lanes.
After intense opposition from residents in Homewood and Mountain Brook, McInnes said the state is not actively pursuing earlier plans to build elevated lanes from I-459 into the Elton B. Stephens Expressway that carries traffic into downtown Birmingham.
The elevated lanes on U.S. 280 east of I-459 are one of four major highway projects across the state that Department of Transportation is considering tolling. The others are:
• Interstate 10 connector from U.S. 231 near Dothan to Florida. McInnes said this study has been extended to include the Florida segment from the Alabama line to I-10. The study was revised after Alabama transportation officials met with Florida officials, who are now interested in the project. McInnes said Florida’s interest increased because of a new airport being built near Panama City.
• The Montgomery Outer Loop. McInnes said the project cannot be built with toll revenues alone. “We are working on a state-federal-city-county-toll package to make the completion of the outer loop work. We have invested over $60 million in construction already, so there is some equity out there,” he said.
• A new I-10 bridge across Mobile Bay. The $800 million bridge “cannot be built without outside help,” McInnes said. The Transportation Department is also wrestling with how tolls on the new bridge would work because drivers could opt to use the two Mobile tunnels for free.
Tolls are only being considered for new construction, department spokesman Tony Harris said.