By Robert Carter
North Jefferson News
GARDENDALE — Its official: The Northern Beltline is a go.
Gov. Robert Bentley made the announcement Tuesday afternoon at the Gardendale Public Library, not long after the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers had approved permits for the first section of the new freeway.
As expected, the first segment is short and in a fairly rural area. The initial segment will connect Alabama Highways 79 and 75 between Palmerdale and a point between Pinson and Locust Fork. There isnt much there along that path right now, but as supporters from Bentley on down said over and over, "You've got to start somewhere."
That segment will at first be designated as Alabama Highway 959. Like the future Interstate 22, also known as Corridor X, it will not become an official interstate highway until it connects with another.
The Northern Beltline will support economic development and additional job creation in Jefferson County, Bentley said.
Bentley said that the project will be 100-percent funded by the federal government with no matching money required from the state. The estimated cost for the entire project is about $3 billion.
The Alabama Department of Transportation has set up a new website at betterbeltline.org to provide updates to the public.
Eventually, the Beltline will connect with I-20/59 near the current interchange with I-459 near McCalla on the west end, and I-59 near Argo on the east end. The current plans have the road crossing I-65 between Gardendale and Morris.
Not everyone is on board with the project. The Southern Environmental Law Center has opposed the project from the outset for both environmental and financial reasons. The RELC has filed lawsuits against the project.
Steve Bradley of the Coalition for Regional Transportation brushed aside the activists. “They masquerade as environmentalists, but what they really are are no-growth advocates. They exist to try to stop projects by filing lawsuits.”
Bentley countered their objections in his announcement, saying, “We are committed to building the Beltline in the most environmentally responsible way possible.”
Bentley was flanked by a host of local politicians at the press conference, including Gardendale Mayor Othell Phillips, Pinson Mayor Pro Tem John Churchwell, State Sen. Scott Beason (R-Garden?dale) and State Rep. Allen Treadaway (R-Morris).
ALDOT director John Cooper said that a decision will be made within the next year on which direction construction will move on the next phase.
“That will involve things like ease of construction, whether there’s a development on one side or the other,” Cooper said.
ALDOT officials said the first construction could begin as early as January 2014.