What is happening at the Red Mountain Expressway? We’ve got answers.

Red Mountain Expressway Cut. (Jeff E. Newman)
Red Mountain Expressway Cut. (Jeff E. Newman)

One of Birmingham’s most iconic and busiest roadways is in the midst of a major facelift.

In early April, the Alabama Department of Transportation (ALDOT) and a public/private partnership began work on the Elton B. Stephens Red Mountain Expressway and the famous “Red Mountain Cut.”

We connected with ALDOT, Jefferson County, City of Birmingham and several individuals working on the expressway and the cut. Read on to learn what we discovered.

What’s Happening Now at the Red Mountain Expressway

Red Mountain Expressway
Red Mountain Expressway. (Bham Now)

If you have driven the Red Mountain Expressway lately, you have likely seen a great deal of work being done on not only the Expressway, but on the walls of the cut. 

Here are the details:

First the roadwork. ALDOT provided us with their “to do” list on the expressway. Note—for rush hour travelers who have already experienced delays, the work is going to take a year to complete. 

Here is what ALDOT is doing :

  • Tearing out the old concrete in the median and guardrail
  • Putting in concrete shoulder and concrete barrier wall and retrofitting the bridge rail

Timeline:

  • This is mainly night time work.  Working weekdays from 10 p.m. until 5 a.m. and weekends from 8 p.m. until 6 a.m.
  • Work will be complete by Spring of 2023

And the Cut?

Red Mountain Expressway Cut. (Jeff E. Newman)
Red Mountain Expressway Cut. (Jeff E. Newman)

In addition to ALDOT’s efforts on the roadway, travelers have seen work done on the cut, with the removal of trees, vegetation and rubbish. For the first time in years, folks are seeing the cut’s walls. It is a real revelation.

Earlier this week, ALDOT directed Bham Now to the Jefferson County Commission who is partnering with a number of groups, public and private, to enhance our community gateways.

Below is a statement from Jefferson County about the efforts:   

“The County Commission is leading a project to clean up, landscape and maintain the major gateways (interstate right of ways) in the County to be ready for the World Games. County Manager Cal Markert and the Roads Department worked with ALDOT in order to be permitted to do this work.  The “Cut” area is just one of the projects. The initial clean up of the Gateways including the Cut area are funded by private partnerships with the County managing them. Following the cleanup the County, City of Birmingham, UAB, ALDOT and the Greater Birmingham Convention and Tourism Bureau will fund the maintenance of the Gateway areas over the next three years with the County serving as the lead agency managing all of the work and permits needed through ALDOT. We believe this will drastically improve our image to the hundreds of thousands of visitors expected during the World Games.”

More Than a Road

Red Mountain
Red Mountain Expressway in the 1970s. Photo via Pinterest

A little background about the Expressway and the Red Mountain Cut.

According to Bhamwiki, between 1962 to 1969 roadbuilders removed 2 million cubic yards off the ridge of Red Mountain, creating the “cut” for the expressway that connects Birmingham to the Over the Mountain communities. The highway opened in 1970. 

When our city fathers did this, the 210-foot-deep, 1,640-foot-long highway cut exposed over 190 million years of geologic strata dating to over 500 million years ago. 

An excerpt from Bhamwiki’s “Red Mountain Cut” about the discovery.

“The Ordovician, Silurian, Devonian and Mississippian geologic periods are visible in the cut. Special features include caves, volcanic ash layers, the Red Mountain fault line, prehistoric reefs and beaches, fossils and fossil tracks. Significantly, the cut reveals the cross-section of the red ore seam that spurred Birmingham’s development and a layer containing fossils of a unique Silurian trilobite species.” 

After its construction, Birmingham turned the “cut” into a geological classroom, establishing the Red Mountain Museum (which would become the McWane Center) in the late 1970s. Local students and residents would regularly view and learn about the fossils discovered at the site. There was even a pathway alongside the cut, which was later closed. 

In 1987, the National Park Service declared the Red Mountain Cut a National Natural Landmark.

In the meantime, the Expressway, which was built to handle 32,000 vehicles a day 50 years ago, is used today by 94,000+ vehicles

Stay Tuned

In the coming months, additional public-private announcements are forthcoming. Meanwhile, thanks to funding by local private individuals, the clearing of the vertical walls, which is restoring this national natural treasure continues. Watch this space for more exciting news about the Red Mountain Expressway, the cut and gateways throughout our community.

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: 2009