Transportation Reform in Alabama

SELC is working to reform transportation planning and to support cost-effective solutions that protect the environment and enhance quality of life.


Photo © Hunter Nichols

The Alabama Department of Transportation (ALDOT) too often relies on building new or expanded highways to solve traffic problems without looking comprehensively at transportation needs and alternatives. Unlike many other southeastern states and until recent legislation passed requiring the agency to submit a long-range plan to ensure that projects are prioritized according to a list of important, objective criteria, ALDOT to date has not been held to a transparent process around how transportation investments are decided. 

Despite growing demand for more accessibility to transit and alternative transportation options, costly, unnecessary highways are built for political reasons to the detriment of air and water quality. SELC is working at several levels to change the way ALDOT approaches transportation planning and to stop the most wasteful, environmentally harmful projects from moving forward.

Cahaba Beach Road

ALDOT is pushing a project forward that would cut through the heart of an undeveloped area that safeguards Birmingham’s drinking water source, drastically increasing sediment and other pollutants in both the Little Cahaba River and the Cahaba River.

Cahaba Beach Road would take over public land owned by the Birmingham Water Works Board, bought with ratepayer money to permanently protect drinking water by providing a natural buffer and filtering stormwater runoff.

The project has been met with significant opposition from conservation groups, local communities and elected officials, including official resolutions against the proposed route by the Birmingham City Council and Vestavia Hills City Council.

With ALDOT’s own admission that the project will not reduce congestion on nearby highway 280, SELC and our partners are urging the agency to study other small-scale, less costly improvements to ease traffic without opening our resources to harm, and calling for the Birmingham Water Works Board to permanently protect the surrounding public land.

The Birmingham Northern Beltline

Ranking as one of the nation’s biggest boondoggles and a prime example of failed approaches to transportation infrastructure, the Northern Beltline is a 1960s-era idea in a 21st-century world. The proposed 52-mile road would loop north of the Birmingham metro area through the watersheds of the Cahaba and Black Warrior Rivers, threatening important sources of drinking water.

The most expensive road project in Alabama history at an estimated cost of $5.4 billion, the Beltline would consume a majority of scarce ALDOT resources. ALDOT has not secured funding for the construction of this road.

Alabama’s limited transportation funding should go to much-needed maintenance projects statewide, improving safety on existing roads at far less expense to taxpayers and the environment. These needs will continue to go unmet as long as ALDOT gives priority to politically-motivated projects that lack any meaningful traffic safety or congestion relief benefits.

Read Frequently Asked Questions about the Northern Beltline.

A Path to the Future

With a shift in transportation demands away from subsidizing suburban sprawl and back into investing in urban centers, SELC and our partners are working to meet transportation challenges with innovative and effective solutions that protect our environment and enhance our quality of life.

There are numerous opportunities in Alabama to improve existing transportation infrastructure and expand public transit.  Regional transportation problems can be greatly relieved by upgrading road connections, improving secondary roads and access points, repairing existing roads and bridges, and broadening public transportation options, like bus and rail.

A sustainable solution for making smart transportation investments is crucial, which must include holding ALDOT to specific accountability terms and a transparent project-prioritization process that requires the agency to objectively rank each project based on criteria including commuter benefits, transportation safety, ecological impact, traffic density, recreation and tourism.

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