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With $489M From Feds, Construction to Resume On Birmingham's Northern Beltline

Thu April 20, 2023 - Southeast Edition #9

Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey appeared in Gardendale on April 12 to announce that $489 million in federal funding has been secured to resume construction on the Birmingham Northern Beltline this spring.

The Alabama Department of Transportation (ALDOT) broke ground on the project in 2014 but ceased work in 2016 due to a lack of funding from Washington., the statewide news service, reported April 13 that the new funding will cover five years of construction and will open a four-lane, 10-mi. segment of highway called Interstate 422 between U.S. Highway 31, north of Gardendale, and Alabama Highway 75, north of Pinson.

"This is an exciting day for Jefferson County," Ivey said. "The need for this project has grown."

If completed as planned, the proposed Northern Beltline would be a 52-mi., six-lane corridor from I-59 in northeast Jefferson County to the I-459 interchange with I-59/I-20 near Bessemer.

When it was conceived, the project was to be financed solely by the Appalachian Development Highway System but was not funded in the fiscal year 2018 federal transportation bill.

The entire beltline was originally estimated to cost $3.4 billion, but the cost estimate rose in 2011 to $4.7 billion. The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) now estimates the project will cost $5.44 billion, averaging over $100 million per mile of road, making it the most expensive road project in Alabama's history.

Of the $489 million the state has secured to fund building the freeway for the next half-decade, over $300 million comes from President Biden's $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill, which Congress passed in 2021.

The new I-422 is intended to complete an interstate loop around Birmingham that began with I-459, which runs about 33 mi. from McCalla in western Jefferson County to Trussville in eastern Jefferson County.

"Birmingham is one of the very few cities of its size in the United States that lacks a complete, connected interstate route to serve its metropolitan area," Ivey explained. "For about the last 30 years or so, we have talked about the need for a project that changes that."

New Freeway Could Boost Tech, Economic Investments

DeJarvis Leonard, head of ALDOT's East Central Region, said sections of the interstate will be opened as they are finished. He added that work would resume where it left off between Ala. Highways 75 and 79, a section that would probably be completed first because of the work that has already been done, and construction also will start from U.S. 31 working back east toward that section.

"We need to build what we need 25 years from now, not what we need now," said U.S. Rep. Gary Palmer, R-6th District.

With a completed I-422, Jefferson County will be on track to create a technology corridor that could rival any in the country, he said.

"The Alabama delegation is committed to making this happen," Palmer noted. "In the movie, ‘Field of Dreams,' they said, ‘Build it, and they will come.' That [also] applies to infrastructure."

Construction on a Southern Beltline around the city, I-459, began in the 1970s, was completed in 1985, and led to a development boom there, including the construction of the Riverchase Galleria in Hoover at the I-65 intersection in 1986, and The Summit shopping center at the U.S. 280 intersection with I-459 in 1997.

State and local officials said the completion of a Northern Beltline could allow northern Jefferson County to enjoy a similar economic resurgence.

"The Northern Beltline will also open up even more economic development opportunities for our state," Ivey said. "Some of Alabama's economic development partners have already identified 20 potential industrial parks that could be located along the [the corridor]."

Cooperation Needed to Complete Beltline

Gardendale Mayor Stan Hogeland told that more cooperation is needed to secure funding for the completion of the entire beltline.

"We need to continue to work together," he said. "This doesn't finish it; this gets it started."

Homewood City Council member Jennifer Andress said the project also will increase mobility for law enforcement and emergency rescue efforts in the county.

"We have disaster relief and law enforcement that we need to have quick access to the people that they serve," she said.

Ivey said the new corridor also would relieve traffic congestion by re-routing trucks around Birmingham.

"It will make traffic through this area much more convenient," she asserted. "Once completed, it will divert an estimated 18,000 semi-trucks out of downtown Birmingham daily, reducing traffic congestion and improving safety."

According to the FHWA, the entire beltline is scheduled for completion in September 2047.

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