Interstate 20

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Interstate 20 crosses north central Alabama along a 214.7 mile long course. The western 130 miles run concurrent with 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 two with Tuscaloosa while Interstate 459 provides a bypass and commuter route south of Birmingham through Hoover and Vestavia Hills.

Interstate 20 Alabama Guides

Within the city of Birmingham, I-59/20 expand to eight lanes east to the exchange with 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 multi level interchange with I-65 is locally known as Malfunction Junction due to the left exit ramps connecting the two busy freeways.

A lengthy viaduct carries I-59/20 east from I-65 along northern reaches of Downtown Birmingham east 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 resulted in Alabama Department of Transportation (ALDOT) proposals to replace the stretch of freeway with a new bridge system. Alternate plans studied previously involved rerouting the freeway northward along the Finley Boulevard corridor or building it below grade.2

The $362 million plan to replace the I-59/20 viaduct in Birmingham included several changes to the entrance and exit ramps. Ramps from 18th Street and to 22nd Street were removed and a new ramp to 17th Street was added. New flyovers were constructed to connect I-65 with the viaduct and the 17th Street exit. The Sixth Avenue N ramp from I-59/20 east was replaced with a new ramp for Eighth Avenue N. A system of ramps were also built to link the viaduct from 11th Avenue N at 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 $450 million, four year project to replace the I-59/20 viaduct commenced in August 2015 on preliminary improvements to area bridges and road segments. Split into three phases, work on the new ramps started in Spring 2016. These were completed before the original ramps closed so that access to Downtown was maintained during construction. Phase three involved demolition of the 1971-viaducts and building their replacements as through traffic diverted to I-459.5

I-20 and I-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 vacate 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 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 I-20/59, U.S. 11 and SR 5. The freeway northbound next meets Interstate 459. 08/30/11
21st Street westbound at the eastbound service road and entrance ramp to I-20/59 east at Ensley in Birmingham. 21st Street forms the westbound beginning of SR 269 ahead of I-20/59 as it transitions to 20th Street. 02/11/01
Leaving Jimmy Vinton Drive and the grade separated intersection with U.S. 78/431, Morgan Road enters a diamond interchange with Interstate 20. 10/03/10
The Kentuck Mountains rise to the south as Morgan Road approaches the westbound on-ramp to Birmingham. Construction extended Morgan Road south as Leon Smith Parkway to a realigned McIntosh Road west of Hicks. 06/12/08
Interstate 20 leads 58 miles to combine with I-59 south in Birmingham. The freeway east travels 87 miles to the Perimeter Highway encircling Atlanta. 06/12/08

  1. "Birmingham-bound drivers encouraged to take I-459 to avoid detour from I-20/59 N paving." The Birmingham News (AL), 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 (aL), August 29, 2014.
  4. "ALDOT gets earful on I-20/59 bridge plan; work could begin later this year." The Birmingham News (AL), April 24, 2015.
  5. "ALDOT director: Plan for I-20/59 bridges is best for Birmingham." The Birmingham News (AL), January 24, 2016.
  6. "Major roadwork, detours scheduled for Birmingham area in 2013." The Birmingham News (AL), 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
U.S. 11
U.S. 31
U.S. 43
U.S. 78
U.S. 82
U.S. 231
U.S. 280
U.S. 431

Page Updated 04-28-2023.

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