Downtown freeways are unmitigated disasters for cities. They ruin the development potential of central city neighborhoods and create dead zones that divide downtown areas. That’s why Milwaukee, San Francisco, New Orleans, Niagara Falls, Oklahoma City, New Haven and Syracuse have either torn them down or are seriously considering it.
But Birmingham, Alabama, is on track to take just the opposite approach. Under the advice of the Alabama Department of Transportation, Birmingham plans to widen its elevated downtown highway, I-20/59. ALDOT wants to spend $65 million widening 18 miles of this highway to six lanes at all points, based on the projection that traffic will grow 4 percent annually for the foreseeable future. (The project’s total cost, including redecking the highway, is $300 million.) The idea is to speed traffic through downtown on “Alabama’s busiest highway.” ALDOT also wants to widen a local road and remove some on ramps.
John Norquist, president of the Congress for the New Urbanism, recently criticized ALDOT’s proposal in local news site The Weld, saying “it definitely will not do anything good for Birmingham.”
Public opposition to the project is growing, even while political opposition has been lacking. More than 500 people have joined a Facebook group called Rethink 50/29. According to Mark Kelly, publisher of The Weld, the freeway revolt is attracting a growing number of businesses: