The head of the Alabama Department of Transportation is presenting plans today to the city of Birmingham on how to improve portions of I-20/59 that need to be replaced.
The area of focus is 6,600 feet of roadway and bridges that start at the 31st Street interchange, run in front of the BJCC and end at "Malfunction Junction."
When the bridge first opened in 1971, it was meant to last 30 years and support 80,000 cars a day. Now, 42 years later, the bridge is still up and holding almost twice as much traffic as it was originally built for.
The strain of that wear and tear is obvious. A huge chunk of concrete fell from one of the decks during the July 4th holiday, and the hole in the road caused damage to multiple cars.
ALDOT director John Cooper spoke about the plans at a meeting Wednesday afternoon.
"We have to close the bridges because they're running out of useful life. They are deficient, they're structurally deficient, functionally obsolete, and we had the hole over the 4th of July that came about without even being hit. And as engineers, we just know we have to replace those bridges," Cooper said.
Cooper says the department has gotten suggestions of possibly moving the bridge further out from the center of town to the Finley Boulevard area, or even burying the bridge--in other words, lowering it instead of keeping it as an elevated structure.
After conducting studies, ALDOT determined those two suggestions would cost more than $1 billion apiece and they would take more than 10 years to complete.
Instead, ALDOT officials want to go with their original plan, which is to rebuild the bridge.
But they've also made a few modifications to their plan which includes eliminating some of the exits to improve traffic flow and adding some shoulder space to increase safety.
Director Cooper met with Birmingham Mayor William Bell today to see if the city prefers the original plan or the one with slight modifications.
But the bottom line, Cooper says, a decision needs to be made soon so they can get going.
Based on the decision the city makes, Director Cooper says the cost of the project would be between $270 - $345 million. They could start letting bids as early as next year.
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