Northern Beltline construction loses funding, now competing with other state projects

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Construction delays to complete Birmingham’s Northern Beltline  —  a 52-mile, six-lane highway that would connect Interstate 459 in Bessemer with Interstate 59 in northeast Jefferson County — continue due to loss of funding, according to AL.com.

First started in 2014, beltline construction was later delayed in 2016 to loss of funding for the estimated $5.3 billion project. The Alabama Department of Transportation (ALDOT) hoped to start working on the project again in 2019, but the project, which was being funded by the Appalachian Development Highway System, was not funded in the 2018 federal transportation bill.

Now, the project is going to need state funding to continue in 2019 as originally planned.

“Unfortunately, adding lanes along existing, heavily congested roadways typically take a higher priority since the relative cost is so much less for relief,” Linda Crockett, spokesperson for ALDOT’s East Central Region, told AL.com. “The Northern Beltline is obviously needed but will take several years to fund and construct,” she added. “If there is a change in funding, either through an increase in gas taxes or if funds are dedicated toward the ADHS again, it may help the construction pick back up, but for the foreseeable future, it will be very limited.”

One of the many projects the could compete with the beltline funding is that of the proposed, competing bridge to the Foley Beach Express down in Orange Beach. This proposed bridge could divert much needed state resources away from other critical state infrastructure projects such as the beltline.

“Construction of the Northern Beltline is expected to enhance cross-region accessibility, create jobs, stimulate economic growth and respond to existing development, as well as address future traffic growth,” said BetterBeltline.org. “Birmingham is unique among U.S. urban areas because it has four interstates that converge and connect to other southeastern metropolitan areas. The Beltline touches every mainline interstate in Jefferson County and creates significant opportunities for growth and prosperity.”

But if Alabama had to pay the tab on its own, the project “would never pass the idea stage,” Beth Osborne, who spent five years as a senior policy official in the Obama administration’s Transportation Department and is now at the advocacy group Transportation for America, told Environment and Energy News.

ALDOT last projected the Northern Beltline should be completed in 2054. Only time will tell if Osborne is correct.

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