The Northern Beltline (Appalachian Regional Commission High Priority Corridor X-1, and future Interstate 422) is a planned 52-mile by-pass route around Birmingham through northern and western Jefferson County to be completed in late 2048 at a projected cost of $5.45 billion. Along with the existing I-459, the Northern Beltline would complete the bypass loop of central Birmingham for all interstate traffic. The route has also been designated as Alabama State Highway 959.
The planned route is divided into five segments with thirteen interchanges:
In the west, Segment 1 begins at the present southern terminus of I-459 at 1-59/20 in Bessemer. The route crosses Valley Creek just before its first planned interchange near the present intersection of Powder Plant Road and Bessemer-Johns Road. The second interchange is planned for the intersection of Jefferson County Road 29 and 15th Street Road in Hueytown near Hueytown Fire Station #2. The third interchange, on Warrior River Road (Jefferson County Road 46) near Clark Mountain represents the end of Segment 1, which traverses 9 miles.
The second segment picks up from there and continues to the north, with a fourth interchange at Birmingport Road between Rock Creek Road and Pleasant Grove Road in Sylvan Springs. It then crosses Village Creek near Bayview Dam and makes its fifth interchange at U. S. Highway 78 in northern Adamsville just north of Glascow Hollow Road. The length of Segment 2 is 9.6 miles.
Segment 3 picks up there and proceeds northeast through Graysville making its 6th interchange with I-22 just under a mile east of I-22's Cherry Avenue exit. The route continues eastward, crossing Five Mile Creek in Brookside toward Mount Olive. The 7th interchange occurs at Newfound Road (Jefferson County Road 77) just south of that community, marking the end of the 8.3 mile segment.
The fourth segment continues over Mount Olive Road and proceeds northeast to I-65 and U. S. Highway 31, making its 8th and 9th interchanges there in northern Gardendale. The 10th interchange occurs at Glenwood Road (Jefferson County Road 129) just south of Morris. The segment continues east over Turkey Creek to Bradford Road (Jefferson County Road 121) between Crosston and Bradford, traversing 10.2 miles.
The fifth, and at 13 miles, the longest segment of the beltine continues west through Dixiana to Alabama Highway 79 near the southern end of Old Tennessee Pike where it makes its 10th interchange. The 11th interchange falls about 2 miles further on Alabama Highway 75 in Palmerdale, between Clay-Palmerdale Road and Marsh Mountain Road. It passes north of Butler Mountain and forms its 12th interchange at Old Springville Road (Jefferson County Road 30) and Goodner Mountain Road in Clay. The segment continues southeast, crossing the Cahaba River, and terminating at I-59 near mile marker 147 at Advent Circle and Hubbards Lake in northeast Trussville.
A corridor study is underway to determine the economic feasibility of continuing the route into St Clair County through Argo and Margaret to reach I-20 in Moody.
As early as the 1960s, the prospect of a complete beltway encircling Birmingham was envisioned. Although the proposal was initially dropped from the original Interstate Highway System, the completion of Birmingham's outer beltway was placed on the area's long-range transportation plan in 1981 and has been seen as a natural extension of I-459 since it was completed in 1985. By 1989, the first federal and local funds were earmarked for a project to study the feasibility of constructing the route.
In September 1993 the Metropolitan Planning Organization made a $500,000 request from ALDOT for preliminary engineering of the beltline. Through the continued efforts of representative Spencer Bachus, in June 1995, the project was designated by the Federal Highway Administration as part of the National Highway System. As a result of this designation, the beltline would be eligible for federal transportation dollars.
In 2000, the Northern Beltline was added to the area’s Transportation Plan, and in 2001, Senator Richard Shelby and Representative Spencer Bachus secured $60 million to buy right-of-way and do preliminary engineering for the route. In 2003, Shelby succeeded in having the project designated under the Appalachian Development Highway System, and secured an additional $2 million for the continued purchasing of right-of-way. Progress continues with the purchasing of additional right-of way through the county as of 2006.
In 2009 Shelby reaffirmed his commitment to the project, which was deemed the top federal legislative priority for the Birmingham Regional Chamber of Commerce. In May of that year Spencer Bachus announced that the Northern Beltline would carry the designation of Interstate 422 instead of being simply a continuation of Interstate 459, and also stated that he would like to see it complete by 2025. In August, the proposal was the subject of a special report on "The Newshour with Jim Lehrer". Journalist Rick Karr characterized it as a "quintessential" example of what he terms "zombie highways" for their propensity to devour funding even when they're all but dead.
The House of Representatives implemented a ban on earmarks beginning in 2010, curtailing Shelby's personal influence in securing funds. Meanwhile, the Birmingham Metropolitan Planning Organization ranked at 36 out of 54 projects, noting that it would do little to improve traffic congestion. Congress stopped funding the Appalachian Development Highway System in 2012. In debate, Colorado Rep. Jared Polis made specific reference to the Birmingham project as the "Alabama Porkway".
A lawsuit was filed by a coalition of environmental groups in 2011, claiming that the project would involve 125 stream crossings and leveling more than 4,000 acres of forest, imperiling several threatened and endangered species. The suit was dismissed.
The first section slated for construction was projected to be part of Segment 4 between Alabama Highway 79 at and Alabama Highway 75 at Palmerdale, about four miles north of Alabama Highway 151, which already connected the two. It was expected that the $80 million section could begin construction in late 2010, but the process of obtaining a permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers kept ALDOT from requesting bids before mid-2013.
Phase one of construction, a 1.3-mile segment in northeast Jefferson County near Palmerdale, was begun in February 2014. Construction work was concluded in the fall of 2016.
Funding for additional work was not included in the federal transportation budget until 2019, when approximately $30 million of a $100 million appropriation to the Appalachian Development Highway System was approved by Congress. In November 2021 the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act was signed into law by President Joe Biden, which included $369 million for the beltline project. Shelby voted no on that bill. At the end of 2022 ALDOT had not yet announced any new construction projects related to the beltline.
In January 2023 the Regional Planning Commission projected that it would steer around $1.5 billion to the Northern Beltline project by 2045.
Support and opposition
The project is strongly supported by many of the municipalities it would connect, as well as by the corporations who own large parcels of undeveloped land in Northern and Western Jefferson County such as U. S. Steel, Drummond Company, Walter Energy, and Alawest. These leaders have stressed the potential of the highway to spur major economic development projects that would benefit the region. For that reason the Birmingham Business Alliance has endorsed the project.
Local and regional planners reach mixed conclusions about the proposal, saying that the planned route, which favors undeveloped areas instead of close connections, may be unnecessarily long and that its failure to connect with I-459 on the east limits its usefulness as a true bypass ring. Others suggest that a smaller parkway-style connector may be more appropriate for the expected traffic and would not imperil small communities and ecosystems in the same way.
A group called SOURCE ("Save Our Unique River, Communities and Environment") has criticized the proposed alignment of the beltline, saying that it needlessly endangers the headwaters of the Cahaba and Little Cahaba Rivers. The group points out that the proposal shows interchanges being constructed in some of the most environmentally-sensitive sections of the watershed. SOURCE has also complained that the large landowners who stand to benefit most are also the driving forces in speeding funding for the project.
In August 2013 the Federal Highway Administration increased the projected cost for the project from $4.7 billion to $5.45 billion (or $104.7 million per mile). The Alabama Department of Transportation did not adopt the increased estimate, and the Coalition for Regional Transportation continues to estimate the project's cost as $3 billion.
- Roberts, Chris (September 15, 1993) "JeffCo, Shelby getting $120 million for roads." The Birmingham News
- Gordon, Tom (June 10, 1995) "Northern Beltline gets federal priority." The Birmingham News
- Nicholson, Gilbert (May 11, 2001) "Northern Beltline: Land rush may ensue when road's route announced this summer" Birmingham Business Journal
- "Sen. Shelby continues to bring home transportation bacon" (September 4, 2003) Birmingham Business Journal
- Wilson, Glynn (November 16, 2006) "Birmingham's Northern Beltline Highway Is Not Inevitable" Locust Fork Journal
- Orndorff, Mary (May 1, 2009) "U.S. Sen. Richard Shelby pledges federal aid for Northern Beltline project near Birmingham, Alabama." The Birmingham News
- MacDonald, Ginny (May 26, 2009) "Corridor X/ I-65 interchange construction could begin this year." The Birmingham News
- Gray, Jeremy (August 6, 2009) "Show looks at the Northern Beltline and area mass transit." The Birmingham News
- Geiss, Chuck (August 20, 2009) "Naked Birmingham" Black & White
- Karr, Rick (August 5, 2009) "More Blueprint America on The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer". Blueprint America
- Spencer, Thomas (December 13, 2009) "Northern Beltline work set to begin." The Birmingham News
- Walsh, Sean (February 25, 2011) "Birmingham's Northern Beltline cost estimate soars to $4.7 billion." The Birmingham News
- Pelfrey, David (June 9, 2011) "Spinning a web: The deceptive public relations tactics of the Birmingham Business Alliance and the Coalition for Regional Transportation reveal the character of the Northern Beltline's most ardent supporters" Black & White
- Smith, Mike D. (August 20, 2013) "New cost estimate puts Northern Beltline price at about $5.45 billion." The Birmingham News
- Edgemon, Erin (November 8, 2017) "Construction of Birmingham Northern Beltline stops due to loss of funding." The Birmingham News
- Koplowitz, Howard (December 19, 2019) "Northern Beltline to resume construction after $30 million approved in Senate funding bills." The Birmingham News
- Sullivan, Andy (March 30, 2022) "In Alabama, infrastructure dollars revive a 'zombie' highway" Reuters
- Gann, Heather (October 11, 2022) "Construction of long awaited $5.5 billion Northern Beltline could restart in spring, officials say." The Birmingham News
- O'Leary, A. J. (November 17, 2022) "Northern Beltline project still in air, community leaders waiting." Birmingham Business Journal
- Northern Beltline at the Birmingham MPO
- Map of the Northern Beltline from the Birmingham MPO
- SOURCE website
- Northern Beltline at AARoads.com
- Large Landowners Along the Beltline. Birmingham News graphic by Jeff Hansen, Thomas Spencer and Jody Potter
- Google Earth .KMZ file of the beltline's proposed route.