(PHOTO: ALABAMA DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION)
Drivers traveling through Birmingham, Alabama should expect to spend extra time getting around the city for the next 14 months. Interstate 59/20 through the downtown area is expected to close for construction in January 2019. The anticipated reopening date is March 2020.
Bridges will be rebuilt along I-59/20, as well as portions of I-65, during the closure. The current bridges were built over 45 years ago and designed to accommodate only 80,000 vehicles per day, according to the Alabama Department of Transportation.
“Today, this stretch of interstate has the highest rate of traffic flow in Alabama, carrying over twice the number of vehicles than it was intended to accommodate,” an ALDOT project update reads. “By 2035, this number is expected to increase to over 225,000 vehicles per day. Consequently, this vital infrastructure is functionally obsolete, and must be replaced in the interest of public safety and to ease the flow of commerce and traffic through Birmingham’s Central Business District.”
The bridge replacement is phase three of a construction project that began in September 2015. Phases one and two involved road widening and constructing new interchange ramps at I-65. This final phase will replace bridges at the interchange between I-20/59 and Red Mountain Expressway, as well as bridges that carry I-20/59 through downtown, according to ALDOT.
The overall project is expected to cost over $700 million, with the funds coming from ALDOT, the Federal Highway Administration and the Birmingham Metropolitan Planning Organization.
Drivers are being asked to avoid Downtown Birmingham when possible and utilize I-459.
Traffic from I-59/20 Westbound will be taken off the interstate at the Carraway Boulevard exit, then directed to take Finley Boulevard around the city before ultimately entering I-65 or reentering I-59/20 outside the construction zone.
Traffic from I-59/20 Eastbound will be taken off the interstate at the Arkadelphia Road exit, then directed to take Finley Boulevard and eventually, Carraway Boulevard, before being allowed to reenter I-59/20. Routes will also be available for eastbound drivers to enter the city if necessary.
Additional turning lanes have been added to Finley and Carraway in an attempt to alleviate some of the excess traffic caused by the closure.
The overall project has a projected completion date of November 2020, but the contractor has a 14-month window from the closing of the bridges to have them back in operation. The contractor on the project has been given an added incentive of $250,000 per day for every day he beats the 14-month clock, as well as a $250,000 per day penalty for every day he goes over the allotted 14-months, according to East Central Region Engineer DeJarvis Leonard.
The exact closure date of the interstate is unknown, but it is expected to be between mid-January 2019 and late-January 2019.