Year Inducted: 2022
The reconstruction of Interstate 59/20 through the Birmingham Central Business District that opened to traffic in January 2020 was the largest single project in the history of the Alabama Department of Transportation. Its innovative segmental, contextsensitive design and phased construction renewed this critical piece of urban infrastructure for generations to come while minimizing disruption to this heavily travelled urban corridor.
ALDOT, the city of Birmingham, Jefferson County, the Birmingham Metropolitan Planning Organization as well as numerous consultants and contractors collaborated on the planning, design, environmental permitting and environmental justice measures, construction engineering, and implementation of the $1 billion project to replace these structures. The reconstruction provided improvements to mobility, safety, longevity, aesthetics, and noise impacts on the most heavily traveled corridor in the state. In all, the project consisted of 65.5 lane miles and 31 bridges.
For nearly 50 years, millions of motorists have traveled the joint interstates 59 and 20 through Jefferson County. This major artery has the highest rate of traffic flow in the state of Alabama. Once the interstate reaches Birmingham’s Central Business District, it becomes an elevated concrete structure overseeing the downtown area. Opened in 1973, the original elevated structures were designed for 80,000 vehicles per day. Current traffic exceeds 160,000 vehicles per day, with future traffic estimated to be over 225,000 by 2035.
Roadway condition, traffic congestion, and safety necessitated substantial improvements to the existing facility. Redecking and relocation were considered, but ALDOT’s analysis determined the best alternative was to use the opportunity to replace the facility in its current location with enhanced traffic operations, as well as safety and aesthetic improvements. The goal was not to simply rebuild, but to provide substantial improvements. The new design addressed the multiple weave conditions at interchanges and substandard shoulder widths that contributed to the crashes and congestion along this corridor.
ALDOT’s decision to close the interstates during construction created a need for a design solution that would fit the 14-month time constraint. The precast segmental bridge design was chosen to limit the closure with offsite prefabrication and rapid construction methods. The massive size of this urban 5.5-mile infrastructure project with 2,316 precast concrete bridge sections added to its complexity. Traffic control, as well as having multiple contractors involved in various phases at a single time required coordination and expertise on behalf of the contractors.
ALDOT turned to Volkert for the planning, engineering design, environmental compliance/permitting, and construction engineering services. Using innovative segmental design and construction methods, Volkert, in coordination with Corven/Hardesty & Hanover, worked with ALDOT construction contractors Johnson Bros., Granite Construction, Brasfield and Gorrie, and Bell & Associates to complete the project ahead of schedule and within budget.
The new facility reduces noise and congestion, improves traffic operations, and is more sensitive in appearance and impact to the surrounding downtown Birmingham communities.
The project was named the 2021 American Council of Engineering Companies Alabama project of the year and the 2021 ASBI National Award for Excellence.