No metro in the U.S. would tolerate what B’ham is allowing to happen

I-20/59 construction in Birmingham
I-20/59 road construction in Birmingham

Okay, I’ve written or published about this topic before—actually numerous times.

But now since we are just days away, I may actually get your attention.

Nothing is more frustrating than being stuck in traffic.

The Sunday before I wrote this piece, my wife and I sat in our car on I-459 for about an hour as lanes were closed for construction.

The previous week ice on our roads caused wrecks everywhere and folks were marooned much of the morning.

Fortunately this doesn’t happen in Birmingham often.

But that may be about the change.

Within the next few days, I-20/59, the major interstate highway through downtown Birmingham, is scheduled to close for 14 months.

Bad for all of us

This won’t just affect people and businesses downtown, but also detour routes, like I-459, I-65 and 280 as traffic is rerouted.

As Tommy Neely, president of Ross Neely Systems, a Birmingham-based trucking company told

“I can’t say enough about how much I’m not looking forward to this…I think the general motoring traffic in Birmingham, they’re going to be stunned by how many trucks are here in town, not just from local companies like us, but from all over the country. Not only have the truck drivers got to be patient, these motorists in passenger vehicles are going to have to be extremely patient too because they’re going to be stuck behind all these trucks.”

This could have been avoided

There were other options to rebuilding the bridges downtown. There was the possibility of lowering I-20/59 underground or moving the interstate to the north.

When top communities leaders came out against the plan a couple of years ago, The Alabama Department of Transportation (ALDOT) said that it was too late to consider alternate plans.

But there were efforts by Operation New Birmingham (now REV Birmingham) to explore options with ALDOT a decade ago.

Chris Hatcher, a previous employee of Operation New Birmingham, told me he met numerous times with ALDOT to discuss other options, but he said he was ‘stonewalled.’

Birmingham powerless

No other major metro in the U.S. would allow this to happen to them—not Atlanta, not Nashville—no one.

But as I wrote in 2013, Birmingham is powerless…

“We have no government entity that has the authority to fight for our community…We’re 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. We are powerless in Montgomery and powerless as we negotiate with ALDOT.”

Louisville– unified local voices accomplish tough projects

Louisville, Kentucky suffered many of the same problems as Birmingham before combining its county and city governments in 2003. But according to the well-researched Community Foundation of Greater Birmingham report, Louisville is now accomplishing tough projects.

“Prior to the merger, Louisville, as a community, had difficulty coming together to pursue big-ticket projects. Observers note that since the merger took effect, the dueling priorities of different governmental bodies have been replaced by “a quicker pace of decision-making, conflict resolution, and priority setting.”

“…One example can be found in a huge transportation project… It was long recognized that Louisville needed to make improvements to its transportation connections with Southern Indiana across the Ohio River from the city.”

“There was a perceived need for improvements to the downtown bridge carrying Interstate 65 across the river, and there was also a desire to create a separate crossing upstream. The tension between the two needs kept either from gaining full support. In the end, it was decided two new bridges would be built, using tolls to help pay for the $2.6 billion project. The Downtown Bridge has been completed and is open to traffic. The East End Bridge opened in December 2016.”

Our Birmingham region can learn

We may be stuck in traffic for the next 14 months.

But we can take this unproductive time to reflect on how we might find ways to collaborate.

We may not choose to combine our county and city as Louisville, but the efforts of our mayors to begin to work together on broader community initiatives is a good first step.

We certainly must demand a regional vision and plan.

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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13 thoughts on “No metro in the U.S. would tolerate what B’ham is allowing to happen”

  1. “How do you like the Queen?” said the Cat in a low voice.
    “Not at all,” said Alice: “she’s so extremely…” Just then she noticed that the Queen was close behind her, listening: so she went on “…likely to win, that it’s hardly worth while finishing the game.”

  2. I oppose the ideas of burying or rerouting the I-20/59 bridge. I like that bridge and its location downtown. It is a beautiful reminder that we are no longer living in the early 20th Century. The Unites States Interstate Highway System was designed to displace outdated business districts and undesirable slum areas wherever possible.

  3. Actually Atlanta, Dallas, Austin, Miami, and Boston have all had major reroutes of interstate traffic for over one year that lasted 8 years.

      1. These possibilities – especially important right now, with downtown Birmingham literally bursting with activities and promise!

  4. Yes the interstate should have been rerouted north of the BJCC and TopGolf lending a great view of the city and opening up the area for growth. Now, what could be the best area of downtown will have an interstate running through it stopping progress or severely limiting progress. I wouldn’t expect much more to come out of Uptown. Leaders have no vision.

  5. It would have been far less expensive to maintain and build a lowered interstate like in downtown Atlanta, in addition to roads and pedestrian walkways built at a far less cost. The only loss would have been parking, but a parking garage could have taken care of the parking concerns. Unfortunately, the engineers at ALDOT are not always right and in this case, missed the target entirely.

  6. I began clamoring for the I-20/59 to be moved out of downtown several years ago, David, and you wrote an article opposing my concerns. Later, I helped with a movement called Move I-20/59, and we formed a 501-c-3 and solicited funds, and we filed a lawsuit to force ALDOT to move it out of downtown. After a year or so of litigation, Judge Ott ruled against us. If Mayor Bell, you and other civic leaders had joined in, we might have a very different situation than now persists. Birmingham, The City of Perpetual Promise.

    1. Chervis, I have consistently published articles questioning the sanity of rebuilding the bridges in the same location.;; The first of these articles was written more than 2 years before Move I-20/59 effort. BTW, I’m not upset with ALDOT or the City of Birmingham. I’ve repeatedly written that a vision of what is possible had to be a regional vision. Why blame the City of Birmingham? Where was Mountain Brook, Vestavia Hills, Homewood, Hoover, etc? And what about Jefferson County? The City of Birmingham is in no position to fight everyone’s battles. ALDOT gets mixed messages or no message from various governments. Look at 280–5 cities and 2 counties. No 2 cities agree on a solution. What is ALDOT supposed to do?

  7. David, I know it’s been several months since you wrote this article, so my response is not truly fair to you.

    However, since this project started, it has went much better than anyone anticipated. I had the same argument with my pal John Archibald. Very few get to see the “sausage” being made. If you have not, I urge you to go downtown, park in the civic center deck. Look out and take a few minutes to watch the work. You will be amazed. Go down on the streets and watch for a while. You will see how much different this looks compared to the old interstate decks.

    First, they are taller. You don’t really see that until you get down to street level. The difference is startling.

    Second, there are fewer pillars holding up the decks. These new ones are far stronger and overall bigger.

    Three, take a minute to appreciate the architecture in these new decks. Look at the new ramps at the junction. These are truly works of art that are functional as well.

    Forth, this is going to lead to City Walk. I can’t stress enough what a game changer this is going to be. There are very few “park” like entities like this. I know Orlando wants to do one like this under I-4, but so to my knowledge has not started. This is going to cover at least ten blocks. This will connect the BJCC area to the rest of the city like nothing else could.

    Finally, you mentioned Nashville and Atlanta. Nashville and TDOT are about to take on a similar project in the complete reconstruction of I-440. In this case it’s going to take more than one year. As for Atlanta, two friends of mine who have been through Birmingham this summer have commented that they wish GDOT would do some similar work like this in the downtown area. Especially I-75.

    This project is going to leave the downtown Birmingham Interstates in much better shape than they have ever been in not to mention add some beautiful architecture to the skyline.

    Thank You

    Rod McCoy

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