BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP) — Months of headaches for daily commuters, long-haul drivers and downtown businesses are coming to an end as Interstate 59/20 reopens through Alabama’s largest city.
Workers have virtually completed finishing touches like yellow striping and installing signs on a mile-long section of the highway that was demolished and rebuilt after the old road was shut down about a year ago. The project forced east-west traffic to take alternate route through Birmingham.
Officials opened the westbound lanes Friday night after a ribbon-cutting ceremony, and they said both sides would be open Sunday night.
State officials said that by opening the new elevated highway before Tuesday, the contractor, Texas-based Johnson Brothers Corp., will earn a $15 million bonus because the job was finished early.
The project cost some $700 million total.
Michael Brown, the company’s project manager, said safety wasn’t sacrificed to meet the bonus deadline.
“The inspection process, the construction processes and then the post-inspection processes are so thorough that there are no corner cutting, and that’s not what we do,” he told news outlets.
The shutdown forced drivers traveling between Mississippi and Georgia to take surface streets or Interstate 459 to go through Birmingham. The area was a construction zone for months, and some downtown businesses said customers had a tough time getting to them because of confusing routes and parking shortages.
“It has made it kind of uncomfortable for people who aren’t familiar with downtown to come down here because they never know which roads are going to be open and which aren’t,” Dusty Leeming, general manager of Your Pie, a pizza restaurant, told WVTM-TV.
The original highway was built more than 45 years ago to accommodate 80,000 vehicles through the middle of the city. The road was carrying more than twice that many vehicles by the time it was closed in January 2018, state transportation officials said.
The rebuilt road is wider, which officials said should ease traffic in part by allowing space for stalled or wrecked vehicles to pull off the interstate and on to the shoulder.
“The congestion level should go down significantly,” said DeJarvis Leonard, an engineer with the Alabama Department of Transportation.
The land beneath the elevated road will be used for community spaces including parks and food truck parking in what planners hope will be a way to tie together the north and south sides of the city, where a new outdoor football stadium is being built near I-59/20.