On the southwest side of Huntsville, Ala., Interstate 565 is a daily bottleneck during rush hour between the city of Madison and I-65. To help alleviate the problem, Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey last year announced plans to widen the highway to three lanes in each direction.
The building of those additional lanes on I-565 near Huntsville finally got under way in June. The Alabama Department of Transportation (ALDOT) said the $14.3 million project has a target completion date of Dec. 17, 2021.
The highway department also has offered up to $1.25 million in incentives to Reed Contracting, a heavy construction firm in Huntsville., if the road project is completed 50 days early.
It's been a much-anticipated project pushed by Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle in recent years. The interstate upgrade also is the first project to be funded by the state's increase of the gas tax last year, dubbed the Rebuild Alabama Act.
The reason for widening I-565 is obvious as traffic routinely backs up coming into Huntsville in the mornings and leaving town in the evenings.
Those traffic flow issues are expected to become much worse with the opening of the Mazda Toyota Manufacturing plant sometime in 2021. The massive facility is located off I-565 at the Greenbrier exit, part of the area that will see a new lane built in each direction.
The project will take place in the Huntsville city limits in Limestone County, starting just west of County Line Road and continuing to I-65. The length of the construction zone will be a little more than 7 mi.
According to ALDOT, initial work items included nighttime tasks to set concrete barriers and shift traffic lanes on the eastbound roadway. Currently, crews are performing daytime work to widen the eastbound roadway, primarily in the area of Exit 2 (Mooresville Road). Two travel lanes will remain open in each direction during widening.
When the idea of widening I-565 in the Huntsville area was initially broached, the estimated cost ranged between $100 to $150 million, figures too rich for many state residents and politicians. Included in those numbers were the replacement of each bridge on the stretch of highway.
But, Curtis Vincent, the chief engineer of ALDOT's Northern District, studied I-565 for years and researched its construction. He determined that the highway was wide enough already to add another lane in each direction – and that's including the short-length bridges along the route.
In short, Vincent said the shoulders on I-565 were built to the same specifications as the travel lanes and needed only to be paved to be utilized.
"I kept looking at it and I thought that shoulder is 14 feet wide," Vincent said last year. "It's a sufficient shoulder we can utilize because it's got the buildup like the mainline. We wouldn't have to reconstruct it to put traffic on it."
The key, he explained, was the bridges. Did they have the capacity to add a third lane?
"Those bridges are 40 feet [wide] from wall to wall," he said, adding they were also 200 to 250 ft. long. "Even if you had three 12-foot lanes, that would allow you four feet for a shoulder. It's still going to be safe. The lane width will still be the same. We may have two 12-foot lanes and an 11-foot lane across the bridges and a minimal shoulder. But people drive across bridges every day that have less than a two-foot shoulder."