Motorists planning to travel Interstate 59 into Alabama or toward the Florida panhandle should look for a snag around the Etowah-DeKalb county line for the foreseeable future.
The Alabama Department of Transportation has announced the start of a $44 million project to remove and reconstruct about 11 miles of the northbound side of I-59 between Collinsville in DeKalb County and Reece City in Etowah County, just north of Gadsden, according to officials.
The project's footprint extends from south of the Stephens Gap Road overpass to south of Exit 205 at Alabama Highway 68, according to Alabama Department of Transportation spokesperson Seth Burkett. The new work will add to existing traffic problems stemming from other interstate construction near Fort Payne.
"The southbound lane closure begins today," Burkett said Monday in an email. Motorists should expect the closure south of Exit 205 and to expect delays and plan additional travel time or use alternate routes, he said.
The work is expected to be done in summer 2024, he said.
Dothan, Alabama-based Wiregrass Construction is the contractor with a winning bid of $44 million and will first start building up the outside shoulder of the southbound side to widen it for two-way traffic in preparation for closure and reconstruction of the northbound side, according to the Department of Transportation.
Drivers should probably get used to the idea of traffic backups and finding alternative routes, Burkett said.
"It will probably be months before the work on the southbound roadway is complete and traffic is shifted to that roadway, reducing the interstate to one lane in each direction," he said. "The most direct alternative is U.S. Highway 11 , which runs parallel to the interstate" on the west side.
Alabama state troopers will be on the lookout for unsafe driving in the construction zone and the best, first safe step is planning ahead, Alabama Law Enforcement Agency Trooper Sgt. Jeremy Burkett said in a telephone interview.
"I had a good commute to work every day when they were doing construction on a bridge on Highway 231, so I knew when it takes me an hour or an hour and 15 minutes to get there [with the construction], I need to leave an hour and 30 minutes before work," said Jeremy Burkett, who is not related to Seth Burkett.
Along with planning ahead and obeying construction zone speed limits, Jeremy Burkett said drivers should avoid following too closely, give plenty of room to commercial vehicles like big rigs and give large vehicles room when passing them and pulling back over into their lane so they have room to stop, too.
The work on I-59 is needed because the roadway is aging despite its sturdy original construction, according to the Department of Transportation.
"This segment of interstate was originally constructed as a concrete roadway, which can last many decades," Seth Burkett said. "But at over 60 years old, the concrete has outlived its design life and in recent years has increasingly deteriorated, requiring constant maintenance of both the concrete slabs and the overlying asphalt. Reconstruction of the roadway comes at a considerable cost but is necessary to provide safe and efficient transportation along this corridor for years to come."
Meanwhile, a separate, ongoing multimillion-dollar project to reconstruct about 8 miles of the northbound lanes on I-59 in Fort Payne is expected to be done later this year, transportation officials said.
"The project in Fort Payne is a similar project addressing the same issue," Seth Burkett said. "This $25.2 million project is removing and completely reconstructing about 8 miles of the northbound roadway from south of Exit 218 - Alabama Highway 35/Glenn Boulevard - to north of Exit 224 - 49th Street."
Wiregrass Construction is also the contractor on the Fort Payne project. That work was divided into two sections, and crews are currently working on the second, southernmost section - about 2.5 miles that include the Alabama Highway 35 interchange, officials said.