BIRMINGHAM, Alabama -- The Alabama Department of Transportation is making progress on several ongoing and planned projects in metro Birmingham, department Director John Cooper said Friday.
Cooper said U.S. 280 congestion reduction efforts -- though unfinished -- are beginning to show impacts, the department continues to examine its design of the planned Interstate 20/59 bridge replacement project and that he hopes to see completion of half of the Northern Beltline route during the next decade.
U.S. 280: The first phase of the nine-mile, 27-intersection construction project to switch traffic patterns along the highway begins going into effect Friday evening.
Alabama State Troopers will be posted along the highway during the transition and through the weekend, Cooper said.
With the western end of the project switched to the new pattern and the eastern end still under construction, ALDOT is working to ensure there is as balanced a flow as possible along the entire route, he said.
Considerations include the several points where traffic enters the corridor and the fact that twice the number of vehicles go through the red light at Cherokee Road than comes up Interstate 459, he said.
"It's absolutely true that it does no good to clear a number of cars coming west across 459 if you can't clear them inside 459, so we are trying to coordinate that," Cooper said.
The corridor's segments are so tied to one another that more improvements will need to be activated before the true impact is shown, Cooper said.
Cooper said department data show that improvements so far, such as the camera-operated adaptive traffic signals, have reduced average travel times by six to eight minutes.
ALDOT in July removed the traffic signal at Brook Manor Drive in Mountain Brook. Cooper said though the removal may have inconvenienced some people at Office Park Drive, it was necessary to achieve larger congestion reduction goals.
Interstate 20/59: Cooper said ALDOT hopes to begin construction on the replacement of the I-20/59 bridges through downtown Birmingham in late 2014.
The department plans to tear down the bridges and replace them with a deck made from segmented construction, which is quieter as traffic crosses it.
The proposed bridges would be wider, with four lanes and shoulders.
Work would begin with 11th Avenue North improvements, followed by a 12- to 14-month shutdown of the interstate beginning in late 2015, he said.
The plan is still in the design phase, and revisions have been made to accommodate concerns raised by nearby neighbors, businesses and the Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex.
BJCC officials had expressed concerns that 11th Avenue improvements would block development of a multipurpose facility. It is not yet known exactly where the facility would go within a four-block area of downtown, but Cooper said ALDOT is open to "shifting" the roadway to make room for those plans.
Businesses along 31st Street complained that closure of the exit from I-20/59 eastbound would harm their businesses.
Cooper said the revised plan is for a new ramp for 31st Street, which could keep the exit open but add about $30 million to $40 million to the cost of the project.
Corridor X: Estimated completion remains the late 2014, Third Division Engineer Brian Davis said.
Weather has interrupted contractors' progress this summer, causing several stops and starts and cleanup work, Cooper said.
The $168 million interchange will connect Corridor X with I-65 in Fultondale, with 14 ramps and 14 bridges exchanging traffic at the junction. I-65 will be eight lanes wide, with four lanes in each direction.
When complete, Corridor X will be renamed Interstate 22.
Northern Beltline: The department awaits a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers decision on its permit before moving forward with the first segment between Alabama 75 and Alabama 79 near Pinson.
Cooper said he believes the department will be issued the permit.
The estimated $5 billion roadway -- part of the Appalachian Highway Development System -- would form an arc curving north of Birmingham, linking I-459 in Bessemer with Corridor X, I-65, Alabama 75, Alabama 79 and Interstate 59.
Critics of the proposed 30-year project point to its cost and environmental impacts. Proponents say its construction would create jobs and its completion will provide economic benefits.
Cooper called the project a "tremendous opportunity" for economic benefits, as the highway would connect four interstates that feed into Birmingham and make the city a surface transportation center for the Southeast.
"We've got the spokes, we just need to become the hub," Cooper said.
Congress mandated that the state build the corridor, but the state will pay for the project with its own money. Part of about $150 million set aside for the project in previous congressional transportation bills will be used to begin project, with other money used to finish Corridor X near Fultondale and Corridor V in northwestern Alabama.
The "optimal" scenario would be to have the segment of the highway between I-65 and I-59 complete within the next 12 to 15 years, he said.