Court dismisses challenges to Northern Beltline road project

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A federal U.S. District Court ruled against an environmental group Thursday as they sought to halt construction of part of the $5.4 billion Northern Beltline project that aims to streamline traffic in and out of Birmingham.

The group, Black Warrior Riverkeeper, filed a challenge to the permitting process that has allowed the sprawling project to go forward. The 52-mile proposed highway expansion would connect Interstate 459 in Bessemer with Interstate 59, in northeast Jefferson County.

The riverkeeper group had argued, via Southern Environmental Law Center attorneys who represent them in court, that state Department of Transportation and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers officials were remiss in their oversight duties by considering only one section of the project at a time, rather than evaluating the overall effect.

U.S. District Court Judge Keith Watkins disagreed, ruling the “Plaintiff’s preferred approach would effectively reduce the Northern Beltline Project to nothing more than an intractable administrative mess.”

The group’s counsel expressed disappointment at the decision. Senior attorney Gil Rogers said Thursday, “We stand by our position that these agencies have continuously cut corners for the monetary gain of a few wealthy landowners and corporations to move the project forward without fully analyzing the environmental and economic costs, impacts, or alternatives.”

The Coalition for Regional Transportation, an advocacy organization in support of the Northern Beltline project, says the project will help fulfill the transportation needs of the region, “allowing traffic to flow more efficiently around and into the city of Birmingham.”

CRT says the project would create almost 70,000 jobs and have a positive initial benefit of $7 billion for the region during the construction period alone, plus add billions more in revenues and employment benefits annually for Alabamians after the project is completed.

The project moves forward with official resolutions in favor of the projects from major cities along the proposed route, including the cities of Birmingham, Mountain Brook, and Vestavia Hills, as well as the Birmingham Water Works Board, Birmingham-Shuttlesworth International Airport Authority, and Central Alabama Fire Chiefs Association.

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