The wrong investment for Birmingham’s future
SELC and Black Warrior Riverkeeper Challenge Flawed Northern Beltline Permit
The Southern Environmental Law Center today filed a new federal lawsuit on behalf of Black Warrior Riverkeeper, challenging a permit issued by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for the Northern Beltline’s first phase of construction. Although the 52-mile Beltline will have widespread impacts on rivers, streams and wetlands throughout North and West Jefferson County, the Corps chose to evaluate impacts and issue a permit only for a small 1.86 mile segment of the project between Hwy. 75 and Hwy. 79. Read more in the press release.
The Alabama Department of Transportation (ALDOT) is pushing to begin construction on a new 52-mile bypass north of Birmingham called the Northern Beltline. With a $5.4-billion price tag, it would be the most expensive road project in Alabama history. It also would have significant impact on the natural resources around Birmingham, particularly the headwaters of the Black Warrior and Cahaba rivers.
SELC and our Alabama partners want to see Birmingham thrive economically with a transportation system that supports a world-class city with a high quality of life. But the Northern Beltline is the wrong answer, as the project is bad for our environment and our economy.
One of the Most Expensive Highways Ever
The Northern Beltline wouldn’t just be the most expensive road in Alabama history – with a staggering price tag of $104 million per mile – but also one of the most expensive projects in the country. This price doesn’t include the costs of sewer infrastructure and other investments that will be necessary to complete the project.
Proponents of the Northern Beltline claim that the highway would create jobs and growth for the region. But jobs numbers have been highly inflated – and any jobs created would cost taxpayers approximately $450,000 per job – that’s if the project, with a 30-year construction timeline, is ever completed at all.
On the other hand, fixing the congestion on Birmingham’s existing highways would also create jobs – both construction jobs and permanent jobs that will be produced by attracting development to a city that has flowing traffic arteries.
Beltline vs. Birmingham’s Other Transportation Needs
The Northern Beltline would draw federal funding away from dozens of other transportation priorities in Birmingham. The cost of the Beltline alone is more than a billion dollars more than it would cost to address all of the following unfunded key projects: widening I-65, 20, and 59, fixing Malfunction Junction (the intersection with one of the highest accident rates in the state), and ongoing maintenance and improvements for at least 50 other major highways and connections around the area.
So why would Birmingham invest over $5 billion in a project that would reduce traffic only one to three percent?
Fighting for a Better Choice
The Northern Beltline would provide Birmingham with very few benefits, but it would carry huge costs to the city’s coffers as well as the costs to the area’s waterways, air quality, wetlands, and forests. It is a 1960s-era solution to economic growth in a 21st-century world.
As this project has continued to be pushed forward, SELC filed suit on behalf of Black Warrior Riverkeeper in 2011 calling for an updated environmental impact study. SELC filed another suit in October 2013 challenging a permit issued by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for the Northern Beltline’s first phase of construction.