By Gary Lloyd
PINSON — The Birmingham Metropolitan Planning Organization’s draft of the 2040 Regional Transportation Plan shows that more than half of available funding for new road projects for the next 25 years will be spent on the Northern Beltline, a project now estimated to take more than double the time to build than originally estimated, according to a press release from the Southern Environmental Law Center and Black Warrior Riverkeeper.
According to the release, the long range plan estimates that only 19 miles (36 percent) of the 52-mile, $5.4 billion Northern Beltline is projected to be complete by 2040, and that the Alabama Department of Transportation plans to sink 55 percent of the capacity money for building or widening roads in Jefferson, Shelby, Chilton, St. Clair, Blount and Walker counties on this project.
“This has been a wasteful project from the start,” said Sarah Stokes from the Southern Environmental Law Center. “The new draft plan shows that ALDOT has only budgeted to build a third of the entire Beltline, and at that rate, it would take approximately 75 years to build. And ALDOT’s continued diversion of limited funds to this boondoggle means that numerous needed improvements to Birmingham’s transportation system will continue to be delayed or shelved indefinitely.”
Construction continues on the first segment of the road between Highway 79 and Highway 75 in the Pinson area.
According to the press release, the Northern Beltline will cross and “permanently alter” Black Warrior and Cahaba river tributary streams in 90 places, also impacting 35 wetlands and 3,078 football fields’ worth of forest.
“The funding realities set forth in this new transportation plan highlight that this destructive project is not a done deal, and if actually built, will not be ready for use by anyone until nearly the next century,” said Nelson Brooke, Black Warrior Riverkeeper. “Not only is the Beltline going to siphon most of the region’s available money away from other much-needed projects, it will do so at a high cost to our waterways with little to no traffic relief.”
ALDOT, however, tells a different story. Spokeswoman Linda Crockett said ALDOT’s position is that “nothing has changed on the timeline for completing the Birmingham Northern Beltline.”
“We are currently working on the first phase of the project, as you know, which is a grade and drain (1.34 miles),” Crockett said in an email. “So far this phase is on schedule to be completed on time, weather permitting.”
The first phase is estimated to cost $46 million and be completed by mid fall 2016. It will connect Highway 75 with Highway 79.
The entire project will consist of a 52-mile multi-lane highway that will stretch from Interstate 59 in northeast Jefferson County to the Interstate 459 interchange with I-20/59 near Bessemer.
Contact Gary Lloyd at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @GaryALloyd.