BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WIAT) — A lot is riding on the transportation system in and around Birmingham. Many Birmingham residents have sat in traffic jams wondering just what the people in charge are doing to fix local traffic issues.
Richard Reid knows a lot about the roads in Birmingham. For 11 years, he’s delivered flowers and seen progress on local streets.
“Oh definitely, yes. They made a lot of improvements leading up to the World Games,” Reid said.
Those improvements included extended lanes on Red Mountain Express, but what improvements lay ahead?
One mass transit option is street cars, also known as ‘light rail.’ They were once a staple on Birmingham streets from the late 1800s to the 1950s.
One of the original trolley system polls is outside Charlotte Shaw’s office. Shaw, the Executive Director of Birmingham-Jefferson County Transit Authority, is in charge of mass transit in the area.
“I would love to see trolley cars come back. It’s interesting how we used to have them and they became old technology and it was ended. Now trolley cars are considered to be useful because they can cross more miles, they are are less expensive than a heavy rail system, and they are nice to have in a city, especially in a city that’s as historic as Birmingham,” Shaw said.
Before light rail like trolley cars can become a priority, the real push is to reach the 80% of commuters who drive to work. Part of that outreach is a five year plan blending buses, smaller micro transit vehicles, and cars on demand all under the BJCTA. Additionally, the BJCTA will support an app to seamlessly plan your route with all modes of transportation.
“I like to see where you can walk out on just about every corner in any direction and get some level of transpiration,” Shaw said.
When it comes to the interstates, ALDOT shared its five year plan as well. They now have the go-ahead to work on a section of the Northern Beltline, an interstate that would connect I-59 near Argo to I-20/59 in west Jefferson County.
DeJarvis Leonard, a regional engineer for the Alabama Department of Transportation, said “We feel like based on the current estimate of funds that we have, we could have a useable section from 31 to 75 within the next six to seven years.”
Another project will repave I-65 in both directions between Vestavia Hills and University Boulevard.
“It’s gonna be a bandaid project but hopefully it will last long enough so we can start getting some relief on funding, so we can maybe look at what we can do to long term repair,” Leonard said.
On Highway 280, lanes will be added between Red Mountain Expressway and I-459. More lanes are planned between I-459 and Chalkville Mountain Road and a plan is in the works to add lanes on I-65 between Calera and Alabaster.
Charlotte Shaw and Birmingham City Councilor Darrell O’Quinn confirm even high speed rail has come up in discussions.
“Birmingham would really love to have that direct connection to Atlanta so that folks could reasonably consider ‘Hey, I’m living in Birmingham, but I’m commuting to Atlanta everyday, or a couple of days a week for business travel,'” said O’Quinn.
Charlotte Shaw says she’s had discussions about Birmingham’s future with high speed rail, but it’s not a priority at the moment.
Additionally, Lt. Governor Will Ainsworth’s has stated it’s a goal to add an extra lane of I-65 each direction from Tennessee to Mobile. Ainsworth says that could be a reality in 10 to 15 years.