59/20 is closing soon: what you need to know

Central Business District looking West. Soon this area will close. (5920bridge.com)

One day in January next year, I-20/59 through downtown Birmingham will be closed. This will last for more than a year.

Like surgery, it’ll hurt in the short term, but we’ll all feel much better on the other side.

Yes, it’ll hurt when 20/59 closes. But the alternative would be worse.

Back in March 2017, an aging bridge collapsed on I-85 in Atlanta. Miraculously, no one died or even got hurt in that collapse. Still, it’s better for Birmingham to be prepared than praying for a miracle when it comes to bridges.


Fact is, we’ve all been driving on bridges that are, accoding to ALDOT, 30 years past their estimated lifespan. And, they’re carrying more than double the number of vehicles they were designed for back in the ‘60s.

We also don’t want to become one of those cities where population and traffic growth have outstripped the capacity of existing traffic patterns. 

The long game: where we’re headed with the 20/59 closing

In 2021 Birmingham hosts the World Games. I don’t know about you, but I’m dying to know what korfball is, and watch people climb.


By the time those 4,500 athletes roll into town, the city hopes to have completed yet another park – a 10-block, mile-long linear park tentatively called CityWalk BHAM (to add to an already impressive collection of green spaces you can read about here).

By Fall of 2020, we’ll have nicer, safer, bigger interchanges between I-20/59 and 280 on the eastern side of town (near TopGolf), and between I-20/59 and I-65 on the western side of town (Malfunction Junction).

There will be auxiliary lanes. You’ll no longer have to white-knuckle it while trying to enter the highway from the left-hand side as fast-moving traffic races toward you. Instead, we’ll have a lane where we can get up to speed before merging into oncoming traffic. Phew.


Bypassing Birmingham for the short term when 20/59 closes

Depending on where you live, work, and play, this may or may not have a big impact on your day-to-day activities. ALDOT’s official recommendation is to stay away from downtown as much as possible during the time of the 20/59 closure. They’d like us to spend a lot more time on 459, bypassing the city where possible.

Birmingham bypass: from the east 

(5920bridge.com)

Birmingham bypass: from the west

(5920bridge.com)

But we like downtown Birmingham!

The reality, though, is that we like downtown. There are lots of cool places to go and things to do there. There are business to support, events to attend, and sights to see. Plus, there’s work. And food. And art.

You might want to figure out how to support these places

Soon 20/59 closes. We'll still want to go to downtown Birmingham to support businesses.
TopGolf Birmingham (Pat Byington/Bham Now)

Some places are going to become a lot harder to get to, in the short term. To show your love, you may want to head to Uptown, catch a show at the BJCC, have some fun at TopGolf, or visit the Birmingham Museum of Art


From the eastern side to downtown

Soon 20/59 closes. There are several ways to get into downtown Birmingham from the East.
From I-59 northeast of town, get off at the 17th Street Exit to head downtown once I-20/59 closes. (5920bridge.com)

…and back to the eastern side

Soon 20/59 closes. There are several ways to leave downtown Birmingham heading East.
To head back toward the eastern side, follow these routes. (5920bridge.com)

From the western side to downtown

Soon 20/59 closes. There are several ways to get into downtown Birmingham from the West.
Follow the arrows to get to downtown from the western side. (5920bridge.com)

.. and back to the western side

Soon 20/59 closes. There are several ways to get back out of downtown Birmingham heading West.
 (5920bridge.com)

Sometimes you have to take the scenic route

Sometimes, the detours around town will be unavoidable. So, let’s say you’re at the airport and need to get to Bessemer (or vice versa). Or you really want to get to next year’s Magic City Classic. You’re probably going to need to take the local detours.

While you’re riding through new parts of town, you might want to take the time to check out some of the local favorites.

If you’re heading from I-20/59 west, you’ll need to get off at Carraway Boulevard, then take Finley Boulevard to I-65, or to Arkadelphia Road where you can get on 20/59.


Soon 20/59 closes. There are several ways to get from 20/59 on the eastern side of town to 20/59 on the western side.
(5920bridge.com)
Soon 20/59 closes. There are several ways to get from 20/59 on the eastern side of town to 20/59 on the western side.
(5920bridge.com)

Reporting road closures in your favorite Navigation Apps when 20/59 closes

The truth is, no matter how many local media outlets, including Bham Now, work to get the word out about these road closures, it’s likely to be a bit of a mess for a while. We’ll forget, take big detours, complain, get lost … and then get used to it just about the time the shiny new roads are ready.

In the meantime, the reality is that many of us in Birmingham, and many of the folks who pass through on their way to somewhere else, rely on our favorite Navigation Apps. From what we can tell, it looks like the three most popular apps rely on users to report road closures. So, once the highway closes, do your friends, neighbors and fellow travelers a favor and report. 


By 2021, the I-20/59 closure in downtown Birmingham should be a distant memory. We should hopefully by enjoying a new CityWalk BHAM park, be getting ready for the World Games, and be benefiting from our new bridges. Meanwhile, we’ll need to get creative, get to know new parts of town, and support our local businesses during what’s likely to be a tough transition. 


Author: Sharron Mendel Swain

Writer, Interviewer + Adventurer | Telling stories to make a difference