The wrong investment for Birmingham’s future
Birmingham City Council Hosts Debate on Controversial Northern Beltline Project
The Birmingham City Council hosted a March 13 debate to hear from opponents and proponents of the proposed Northern Beltline, a 52-mile bypass north of Birmingham. One of the opponents of the controversial plan that presented t is SELC, which has raised concerns about the impact the project would have on Birmingham’s air and water quality, particularly the headwaters of the Black Warrior and Cahaba rivers. In addition to environmental concerns, the project is under scrutiny for its $4.7-billion price tag, which would make it the most expensive road project in Alabama’s history.
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 $4.7-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 $90 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 nearly 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 nearly $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, in 2011 SELC filed suit on behalf of Black Warrior Riverkeeper.