Move I-59/20 maps out path forward after lawsuit decision

I20/59 lowered proposal
Rendition of lowered I20/59 with park on top

This week, U.S. Magistrate Judge John Ott dismissed a lawsuit that sought to block the federal and state project to replace and widen the elevated portion of Interstate 20/59 through downtown Birmingham.

In October 2015, a lawsuit was filed to halt the I-20/59 project in U.S. District Court in Birmingham by attorneys for Birmingham City Council President Johnathan Austin; Birmingham Board of Education President Randall Woodfin; James Clark, a UAB employee who owns residential and rental property within a mile of the project; four other residents; and Darrell O’Quinn, executive director of Move I 20/59 and president of the Birmingham Citizens Advisory Board.

Ott issued the opinion and order granting the summary judgement after requests were made by the Alabama Department of Transportation and Federal Highway Administration to dismiss the lawsuit.

Recently, Bham Now published a series of articles examining the I -20/59 debate and potential alternatives to the current project.

Here are links to the three part series:

Why Should You Care about the I-20/59 Debate? Birmingham’s Future is at Stake (Part 1 of 3)

Decisions About I-20/59 Will Impact Neighborhood And Business Potential For the Next 50 Years (Part 2 of 3)

This is what I20/59 could look like! See examples from Atlanta and Dallas. (Part 3/3)

In response to Judge Ott’s decision, Move I-20/59’s Executive Director Darrell O’Quinn issued the following statement:

Although we respect Judge Ott’s decision and his opinion, we respectfully disagree. We feel that we are correct in our interpretation of the National Environmental Policy Act law. Therefore, Move I-20/59 and the plaintiffs are seriously considering an appeal of the court’s ruling to the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta. This is a critically important issue for the future trajectory of our city, One that will have a lasting impact for many generations to come.

Our efforts over the past year and a half have elevated the issue as an important priority for city administration. If not for the lawsuit, Move I-20/59’s efforts, and the support of many across the business and residential community, we feel that ALDOT’s agreement to provide the City of Birmingham up to $3M for the study of potential future alternatives would not have occurred.

Overall, we’re saddened that the entities involved have failed to assure that the city center and it’s surrounding neighborhoods will reap the most potential benefit. The total cost of the project is now well above $750M. But what have neighborhoods like Fountain Heights gained other than more noise and reduced air quality? Highways are critically important in so many ways that their value is difficult to fathom. However, that does not justify largely disregarding the concerns and welfare of the communities that have to bear the burden of the highway. Move I-20/59 feels strongly that this project has offered tremendous opportunity – >$750M worth of opportunity – to address blight in the nearby residential neighborhoods. It’s disappointing that our elected officials have been unable to effect significant improvements in those communities through this project.

Asked about Move 20/59’s path forward O’Quinn stated:

Beyond a potential appeal, we intend to monitor the progress of the city’s study of potential alternatives. It is important that that moves forward. Especially because we had a role in making it possible, we intend to assure that it is carried through and that a plan is available for future generations.

We also intend to continue to raise awareness. With municipal elections for the City of Birmingham approaching in August 2017, we feel that this is an issue that voters should take into account. Are their best interests being represented in these situations? And, as currently projected, construction on I-20/59 will be ongoing through 2019 and may not be fully completed until significantly later. Therefore, a change in the composition of local government could have an impact on the final outcome.

To learn more about Move I-20/59 and their efforts, especially “next steps” visit their website at Move20/ .

Pat Byington
Pat Byington

Longtime conservationist. Former Executive Director at the Alabama Environmental Council and Wild South. Publisher of the Bama Environmental News for more than 18 years. Career highlights include playing an active role in the creation of Alabama's Forever Wild program, Little River Canyon National Preserve, Dugger Mountain Wilderness, preservation of special places throughout the East through the Wilderness Society and the strengthening (making more stringent) the state of Alabama's cancer risk and mercury standards.

Articles: 2004