Interstate 20 crosses north central Alabama along a 214.7-mile course. The western 130 miles doubles as Interstate 59, as the pair travel northeast from Cuba to Tuscaloosa and east from there to Bessemer City and Birmingham. A short spur (I-359) joins the tandem with Tuscaloosa while Interstate 459 provides a bypass and commuter route south of Birmingham through Hoover and Vestavia Hills.

Interstate 20 Alabama Highway Guides

Within the city of Birmingham, Interstates 20 & 59 expand to eight lanes to Interstate 65. A portion of this stretch, between Exit 108 and Exit 112, was reconstructed in 2012 during separate 30-day shut downs of the respective roadways. The resurfacing project cost $9.5 million.1 The exchange with I-65 is locally known as Malfunction Junction due to the left side ramps connecting the two busy freeways.

A lengthy viaduct carries Interstates 20 & 59 east from I-65 along northern reaches of Downtown Birmingham to the north end of the Red Mountain Expressway (U.S. 31 & 280). The elevated roadway opened in 1971. Capacity issues and deterioration of the structure led to ALDOT proposals to replace the stretch of freeway with a new bridge system. Alternate plans studied previously involved rerouting the freeway onto a new alignment to the north along the Finley Boulevard corridor or building it below grade.2

The $362-million plan to replace the I-20/59 viaduct in Birmingham includes several changes to on and off-ramps. Ramps from 18th Street and to 22nd Street will be removed and a new ramp to 17th Street will be added. New flyovers will connect I-65 with the viaduct and the 17th Street exit. The Sixth Avenue North ramp from I-20/59 east will be replaced with a new ramp for Eighth Avenue North. A system of ramps will also serve the viaduct from 11th Avenue North from Downtown.3 Changes to the design to improve access to Norwood, Druid Hills and Fountain Heights and the industrial corridor along 31st Street increased costs to near $400 million by April 2015.4

Work on the now $450-million, four-year project to replace the I-20/59 viaduct commenced in August 2015 on preliminary improvements to area bridges and road segments. Split into three phases, work on the new ramps commences in spring 2016. These will be completed before the original ramps are closed to maintain access to Downtown during construction. Phase three involves demolition of the 1971-viaducts and building their replacements as through traffic diverts to I-459.5

Interstates 20 and 59 separate by Birmingham-Shuttlesworth International Airport (BHM) at a trumpet interchange. I-59 turns northeast to Gadsden and north Georgia while I-20 maintains an eastern heading through Irondale, Leeds and Moody to exit the Birmingham suburbs. A $38.5 million project reconstructed I-20 between the split with I-59 and Interstate 459 during 2013. Similar to the work west of I-65, construction involved shutting down one roadway to expedite work.6

The remainder of the freeway in eastern Alabama is fairly rural, but growing traffic demands between Birmingham and Atlanta have necessitated widening to six lanes. Further east, I-20 becomes more mountainous as it traverses areas of the southern Appalachians anchored by Mt. Cheaha, the tallest point in Alabama. Interstate 20 also passes along the northern periphery of Talladega Superspeedway ahead of the Oxford / Anniston area.


Interstate 20 scenes
McAshan Drive northbound at the diamond interchange with Interstates 20 & 59 and U.S. 11 & Alabama 5. Drivers taking the northbound on-ramp next meet the split with Interstate 459. Photo taken 08/30/11.
21st Street westbound at the eastbound service road and on-ramp of the Exit 120 split diamond interchange at Ensley in Birmingham. 21st Street forms the westbound beginning of Alabama 269 ahead of I-20 & 59 as it transitions to 20th Street. Photo taken 02/11/01.
Leaving Jimmy Vinton Drive and the one-quarter cloverleaf with U.S. 78 & 431, Morgan Road enters a diamond interchange with Interstate 20. Photo taken 10/03/10.
The Kentuck Mountains rise to the south as Morgan Road nears the westbound on-ramp to Birmingham. Construction extended Morgan Road south as LeoN Smith Parkway to a realigned McIntosh Road west of Hicks. Photo taken 06/12/08.
Interstate 20 leads 58 miles to the merge with Interstate 59 south in Birmingham. An 87-mile drive awaits eastbound motorists bound for the Perimeter Highway around Atlanta. Photo taken 06/12/08.

Sources:

  1. "Birmingham-bound drivers encouraged to take I-459 to avoid detour from I-20/59 N paving." The Birmingham News, April 3, 2012.
  2. "ALDOT meets with Birmingham leaders about I-20/59 bridge replacement." WBRC (Birmingham, AL), January 22, 2014.
  3. "Interstate 20/59: Fountain Heights residents give input on bridge replacement plan." The Birmingham News, August 29, 2014.
  4. "ALDOT gets earful on I-20/59 bridge plan; work could begin later this year." The Birmingham News, April 24, 2015.
  5. "ALDOT director: Plan for I-20/59 bridges is best for Birmingham." The Birmingham News, January 24, 2016.
  6. "Major roadwork, detours scheduled for Birmingham area in 2013." The Birmingham News, January 11, 2013.


Photo Credits:

  • 02/11/01 by AARoads.
  • 06/12/08 by AARoads.
  • 10/03/10 by AARoads.
  • 08/30/11 by Carter Buchanan.

Connect with:
Interstate 59
Interstate 65
Interstate 359
Interstate 459

Page Updated 02-18-2016.