By Robert Carter
North Jefferson News
PINSON — Residents won't see a huge amount of work just yet, but construction has officially begun on the first part of the Northern Beltline, a highway that will eventually run through most of northern Jefferson County from McCalla to Argo.
Wright Construction crews brought in some heavy equipment on Monday morning, and work was well under way at clearing land on the eastern end of the first segment on Interstate 422, as the new highway will eventually be called.
The first segment will only go about a mile and a half, from Alabama 75 near Clay-Palmerdale Road on the eastern end to Alabama 79 near Old Tennessee Pike Road on the west. It's a relatively short segment but one with many natural obstacles such as a bluff, construction engineer Mike Mahaffey said during a media tour of the area Thursday morning.
Early work will include the construction of settling basins, which will keep runoff and debris from flowing into Self Creek, which runs along most of the route. Some construction roads will also be put in; an old railroad bed will serve that purpose, at least in the early stages.
"Self Creek runs clear through here, and we intend to keep it that way," Mahaffey said.
The Beltline project has been opposed by various environmental groups such as Black Warrior Riverkeeper, which has sued in federal court to stop the project. A judge refused to issue an injunction last month to stop work before it started, clearing the way for crews to begin work this week.
The first segment will require six cuts to be made through hillsides, as well as five fills, Mahaffey said.
"We've got to move quite a bit of dirt, build some culverts, protect the environment — we've got to move a mountain," Mahaffey said.
The first phase of the first-segment project involves grading the right of way, then putting down a gravel layer to protect the roadbed. The next phase will actually put pavement down.
"We're starting in the winter, which makes it difficult to put a time frame because of the weather," he said. "We hope to be finished by the fall of '16, but there a lot of things that can happen between now and then."
Construction signs have been posted and speed limits lowered along highways 75 and 79 in the vicinity of the Beltline work.