BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WIAT) — The Birmingham City Council will soon hear plans for an interstate lighting pilot program that could improve driving conditions across the state.
Details were shared with the Birmingham Budget and Finance Committee Monday and the item will now go to the full council for consideration.
The plan calls for 391 lights to be installed along I-59/20 between the Tallapoosa Street exit and the I-59/20 split.
“This particular stretch by the airport has some irregular traffic patterns that can cause some hazards for motorists,” said Sam Parsons with the Birmingham Department of Transportation.
Parsons said the plan involves several stakeholders, including Alabama Power and the Alabama Department of Transportation.
Cities across the country are dealing with poor or no interstate lighting. Old fixtures have been targets for vandals looking for copper wiring.
“Thieves have stolen the copper wiring out of the conduit for those lighting systems and in particular concern is the area around 20/59 around the airport,” said City Councilor Darrell O’Quinn.
The new fixtures will have some safeguards to prevent vandalism, Parsons said.
“It is going to be more resilient, resistant to vandalism, and that is going to include a few technical things like burying it a little bit deeper and using aluminum wiring instead of copper wiring,” said Parsons.
Many neighbors who live near the interstate were happy to hear about the potential for upgrades.
“I don’t travel at night on the freeway because it is so dark up there and I just take First Avenue,” said Gloria Knight, the Vice President of the East Lake Neighborhood Association.
With so many out-of-state travelers passing through Birmingham, Knight believes it is important for signs to be visible and well lit.
“They are new in this city and they don’t know where they are going and the lights will help them see the direction,” said Knight.
Under the plan, Birmingham transportation leaders said the city would work with additional partners to pay Alabama Power for restoration and maintenance. The city currently has a similar arrangement with the utility provider for city streets, though Parsons said the new LED lights would be much different.
“We certainly expect to cut down on not just the frequency of crashes, but also the severity of them, because again, by giving people more light, it increases their decision distance before they attempt a maneuver that involves other vehicles merging on or off the freeway,” said Parsons.
If Birmingham leaders approve the proposal, the work could be completed in six to nine months.
“I think Alabama Power can get this done over the next few months, certainly I would think their objective is to try and get it done before next summer,” said O’Quinn.
Neighbors hope the plan is successful and can be incorporated along other portions of interstates running through the city.
“We got to start somewhere, but when we get there we need to continue. It just can’t stop there,” said Richard Drake, president of the East Lake Neighborhood Association.
City leaders said the pilot program is the first in the state and could be introduced in other municipalities also dealing with lighting issues.
People living in East Lake hope to see improvements during the pilot program if it is approved by the city.
“With the lights up there, they’ll be able to see the signs and make that move over,” said Drake.
According to Councilor O’Quinn, the interstate lighting pilot program is not on the Birmingham City Council agenda for Sept. 28, but he believes it could be discussed in October.