By Melanie Patterson
North Jefferson News
PALMERDALE — It’s not every day a new road is built.
Especially a 52-mile corridor that will link north Jefferson County and parts of Blount County with the more heavily developed area south of Interstates 20 and 59.
When the Northern Beltline is complete, it will form the upper half of a loop around Birmingham, linking with Interstate 59 near Argo and with Interstate 459 at McCalla.
Gov. Robert Bentley and numerous other officials attended a groundbreaking ceremony for the new interstate Monday in Palmerdale.
“This highway will not wear out. It’s going to be here for generations and generations and generations,” said Rep. Spencer Bachus, R-Vestavia Hills.
It will also be a generation or so before the interstate is finished; the project is scheduled to be completed in segments over at least 35 years.
Nevertheless, the kicking off of the project is a cause for celebration among many in the area.
“This is a great day,” said Gardendale Mayor Othell Phillips. “The Northern Beltline is going to be the catalyst that opens up north Jefferson County.”
Many officials who spoke during the hour-long ceremony reiterated that point; the highway is expected to open the door to more development and thus, jobs.
“It’s a great day for all of the communities out here,” Morris Mayor Joe Pylant said. “We can all benefit from this. Traffic is going to be better and there will be more job opportunities.”
Jefferson County Commissioner Joe Knight, who represents north Jefferson County, agreed that the highway will bring business opportunities.
“We as a county better get busy and build the infrastructure out here,” he said. “That’s my goal.”
The first leg of the project will be a 1.3-mile section that will connect Alabama highways 79 and 75 north of Pinson. The first segment is expected to be complete by fall 2016.
Construction began in February, by Wright Brothers Construction Co., of Charleston, Tenn.
A Birmingham Business Alliance spokesman said the project is expected to have a $7 billion impact; the overall projected cost of the project is $5.4 billion.
The beltline is 100-percent federally funded, according to the Birmingham Business Alliance.
Opposition from environmentalists
Not everyone is enthusiastic about the new highway, however.
The Southern Environmental Law Center has filed two federal lawsuits on behalf of the Black Warrior Riverkeeper, mostly for environmental reasons.
According to the 2011 suit, agencies affiliated with the project “failed to provide a necessary analysis of alternative transportation investments as required by law, and to justify the environmental impacts and tremendous cost of the Beltline,” according to a press release issued just prior to Monday’s ceremony.
A 2013 suit challenges “a permit issued by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for the Northern Beltline’s phase of construction, charging improper segmentation of the project and failure to follow the Clean Water Act and the National Environmental Policy Act,” the statement said.
Neither of the cases has been decided.