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By: Jeff Stephenson, P.E., PTOE
As a resident of the south Birmingham Metro Area for over 20 years, I have driven the I-65 corridor nearly every weekday and have seen it evolve throughout that timespan. The fast growth of communities south of Birmingham has resulted in increased traffic volumes on I-65. With nearly 130,000 vehicles per day, I-65 south of I-459 is one of Alabama’s most heavily traveled roadways. I-65 is also a popular beach traffic corridor during the summer, connecting the Gulf Coast to the Midwestern and Northeastern United States. During summer weekends, it is normal to see just as many out of state license plates as Alabama license plates.
To better accommodate the corridor, many improvements have been made to this area of I-65 over the past several years. All the improvement projects were led by the Alabama Department of Transportation (ALDOT) and generally worked from north to south.
The first project included the widening of I-65 to four lanes in each direction between I-459 (Exit 250) and Valleydale Road (Exit 247) and to three lanes in each direction between Valleydale Road and Alabama Highway 119 (Exit 246). Those improvements were followed by the widening of I-65 to three lanes in each direction between Alabama Highway 119 and County Road 52 (Exit 242). Those last two projects provided room for a future fourth lane in each direction between Valleydale Road and County Road 52. The most recent project was the widening of I-65 to three lanes in each direction (with room for a future fourth lane) between County Road 52 and US-31 (Exit 238). The widening of the main lanes of I-65 is complete. The work on the interchanges, ramps, and traffic signals is nearing completion.
ALDOT has decided to move forward with their plans to open the fourth lane in each direction between Valleydale Road and US-31. The section of I-65 between County Road 52 and US-31 will open to four lanes soon, and I-65 will be reconfigured to four lanes between Valleydale Road and CR-52 using the room provided for the future fourth lane from the previous projects. With the I-65 widening project recently completed between County Road 52 and US-31, it is an excellent time to incorporate the fourth lane throughout the corridor. The fourth lane is expected to be fully operational by the end of the year.
Another project connected to I-65 further to the south in Calera is nearing completion. The interchange of US-31 and I-65 at Exit 231 was recently expanded. The US-31 bridge over I-65 was widened from one lane to two lanes in each direction with left-turn lanes. A short section of US-31 on each side of the bridge was also widened to two lanes in each direction. The ramps and traffic signals were expanded as well.
Sain Associates was pleased to have a role in many of these projects. We provided engineering design and timing implementation services for the traffic signals at each I-65 interchange between Alabama Highway 119 and US-31 in Alabaster, and at the interchange of I-65 and US-31 in Calera. We also provided planning and engineering design services for the Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS) deployments (message boards, cameras, vehicle detectors, and buried fiber optic cable) associated with these projects. While construction was active on I-65, the parallel US-31 route was often used by drivers to avoid traffic delays. Sain Associates adjusted signal timings along US-31 in Pelham and Alabaster through the different construction phases to respond to the increased traffic demand.