Birmingham powerless again

View of I-20/59 built at ground level
View of I-20/59 built at ground level

Let’s talk about the Alabama Department of Transportation’s controversial plan for expanding and reconfiguring Interstate 20/59 through downtown Birmingham.

My understanding is the plan calls for limited access to our downtown and for the continuation of 20/59 to cut through the heart of our city.

This controversy is a case study on why our metro area is powerless
–not only with ALDOT–but when we want something from Montgomery or Washington.

What’s striking is that it is just about impossible to find anyone in favor of ALDOT’s plan.  I’ve not  heard or seen a single discussion with anyone on-line or in person who thinks it is good for our region.  People either want 20/59 to be lowered to street level or moved further north.

It’s clear our business community is against it.  The Birmingham Business Journal (BBJ) ran a poll the week of July 8th.   Eighty-five percent want a different plan.

So when it’s almost universally agreed that it’s a bad idea, why haven’t  we as a community been able to change it?

As usual we are powerless because of lack of a government entity strong enough to have a meaningful conversation with ALDOT.

I’ve watched as traditional and social media demonize Mayor Bell, our City Council, and ALDOT.  Well none of these folks are bad people.  Our Mayor and City Council understand they are powerless and would rather maintain their relationship with ALDOT.

And it may not be fair to criticize ALDOT.   ALDOT’s doing its job– to move traffic through Birmingham as quickly and safely as possible without spending hundreds of millions of  extra dollars.

What about our County Commissioners and State Legislators?  They are in our face with just about every issue, but even though this will significantly impact the future of our region, they seem to be eerily quiet.  But is it in their purview to get involved?

And you may be wondering why a poll by the BBJ shows 85% of business people against the development, and yet the Birmingham Business Alliance (BBA) remains silent?

I understand the BBA executive committee did meet with ALDOT and may in good conscience feel the ALDOT plan is the best alternative, but they know this would be a fruitless battle.

The conversation remains  between the single-minded, well-meaning, but powerful ALDOT and many smaller disorganized entities.

I understand the BJCC is unhappy because of limited access to events.  And I believe in Birmingham is putting on a valient fight, but do they have the horsepower?

You might assume that we are just like every other major city in the U.S., but we are not.

As City Councilman, Jonathan Austin, quoted in a Weld article on July, 17

“Why is Birmingham the only major city in Alabama with an interstate running through the middle of it?” Austin asked. “Now, ALDOT wants to take a bad idea and make it worse. They want to rebuild a bridge through downtown, when every major city in the country is looking for alternatives to building elevated highways.”

The difference is that we have no government entity that has the authority to fight for our community.  The City of Birmingham represents 19% of the population of our metro and Jefferson County is divided into 37 municipalities with our County Commissioners elected by district.  We are just too divided and disorganized.

We have no one who has the authority, clout, or the incentive to make a stand.

We have too many governments with no one in charge.

For that reason…we remain powerless in Montgomery…

powerless in Washington and…

powerless as we negotiate with ALDOT.

Let’s turn Birmingham around.  Click here to sign up for our newsletter. There’s power in numbers. (Opt out at any time)

David Sher is Co-Founder of AmSher Compassionate Collections.  He’s past Chairman of the Birmingham Regional Chamber of Commerce (BBA), Operation New Birmingham (REV Birmingham), and the City Action Partnership (CAP).

Invite David to speak to your group about a better Birmingham.

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