Who do we blame for I-20/59 shutdown?

Elevated bridges of Interstate 59/20 divide Birmingham, isolating neighborhoods and creating a clear boundary between two parts of the city.
Elevated bridges of Interstate 20/59 divide Birmingham, isolating neighborhoods and creating a clear boundary between two parts of the city.

ALDOT closed I-20/59 through downtown–and the sun came up the next day.

I don’t know if this has been a fiasco or a nonevent, but I do know it’s time we take control of our future.

Who is at fault?

I recently published a piece, No metro in the U.S. would tolerate what Birmingham is allowing to happen.

Some folks may have thought I was criticizing the Alabama Department of Transportation (ALDOT).

Others may have thought I was upset with the City of Birmingham.

I was not upset with either.

ALDOT was just doing its job–moving traffic.

And why should the City of Birmingham be the only government entity responsible for a major expressway that affects all of us?

I am upset with us.

Left with only one option

It’s sad how we just allow things to happen to us.

And we do it over and over again.

We were the last major metro in the U.S. to complete our interstate system.

Many cities have an expressway circling their perimeters. We do not—and probably never will.

Now we face 14 months of road closure and we were forced to accept the only option presented by ALDOT.

Rebuilding our downtown expressway should not have been our only option.

A better option

I totally agree with Ty West, the  Editor & Chief of The Birmingham Business Journal. “For the future of Birmingham, we hope the region will remember the annoyances and pain caused by this project in hopes of laying the foundation to avoid a similar fate four decades from now.”

“The better alternative–as has been shown by numerous metros–is to not have elevated interstate bridges bisecting our downtown at all.”

Highways have become so expensive that many progressive cities are tearing them down.

Our bridge work project was originally projected to cost $450 million. The estimate now is $750 million.

We personally will pay for this construction one way or another. Governor Ivey is proposing an increase in our gas tax.

It will open your eyes when you read articles like the one in Business InsiderAmerican highways are so expensive that cities are tearing them down…

“For many cities, it’s often cheaper to level the street grid than repair highways. And when neighborhoods remove freeways, real-estate values increase…highways — especially ones that cut through downtowns — (do) more harm than good…”

“They displace largely low-income communities, segregated neighborhoods, increased the amount of air and noise pollution, contributed to poverty, and devalued surrounding properties.”

“The growing movement to tear down freeway infrastructure symbolizes the nation’s changing attitudes about what future cities should look like.”

Or read the Gizmodo piece, Six freeway removals that changed their cities forever.

“It seems counterintuitive, right? Rip out eight lanes of freeway through the middle of your metropolis and you’ll be rewarded with not only less traffic, but safer, more efficient cities? But it’s true, and it’s happening in places all over the world.”

We must define our own future

To control our fate, we must demand vision, planning, and collaboration–not just for roads, but for education, crime reduction, public transportation, economic development…everything.

It’s a simple choice. We can continue to accept whatever happens to us or we can choose to plan and cooperate as a region to define our future.

Feedback welcome: Have you been impacted by the Big Dig?

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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. dsher@amsher.com

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6 thoughts on “Who do we blame for I-20/59 shutdown?”

  1. I opposed the sinking or re-routing of the 59/20 bridge. I like that bridge and where it is. I was fascinated ax a child by the idea of a mile long bridge. This bridge is a beautiful reminder that we are not in the 19th or early 20th Century. I don’t know what was in that location before the bridge was there but one of the goals of the Interstate Highway System was to be routed to eliminate “outmoded business districts and undesirable slum areas.”

  2. Strange, David, that you now take an interest in the status of I-20/59 as it passes through Diwbtiwn. It has been only a few years ago that I and others opposed ALDOT and this plan and you write an editorial in favor of ALDOT and took issue with our efforts. At that time we were preaching the same concepts that you now support. What a shame you did not see the light then when we might have turned the events. More pressure from civic leaders like you and others might well have resulted in repairs to the bridge and a commitment to move it from downtown or bury it in place. But, alas, you wrote editorials that said we were helpless to effect change.

    I love what you do with this page and follow your efforts and applaud your service. I wish you had found your way on this issue when we had a chance to make a difference.

    1. Chervis, I have consistently published articles questioning the sanity of rebuilding the bridges in the same location. https://comebacktown.com/2016/11/28/heavy-handed-tactics-lead-to-regrettable-i2059-decision/; https://comebacktown.com/2017/08/08/alabama-must-think-were-chumps-and-we-are/; https://comebacktown.com/2013/07/23/birmingham-2059-powerless-again/. 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?

  3. “To control our fate, we must demand vision, planning, and collaboration…for education…”

    We need a separation of school and state.

  4. To all your examples above of cities who have lowered the highways, created multiple viable alternate routes, and done more to connect the communities around the highways – it is my understanding ALDOT is basically replacing exactly what we had-disappointing to say the least. This and setting 55mph speeds on 280 with stoplights-mind boggling.

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