I-565 widening aims to end bottleneck, ease commutes
Area residents whose commuting woes have been compounded by an Interstate 565 bottleneck will get some relief when a 2-mile section of the interstate is widened to six lanes.
Gov. Kay Ivey announced the project, as well as a planned widening of portions of U.S. 72 and Alabama 53 in Madison County, on Thursday in an address to the Huntsville-Madison County Chamber of Commerce. According to the plan, 60% of the three projects — with a total estimated cost of $111.7 million — will be funded by the state, with Huntsville, Madison and Madison County sharing in the remaining 40%.
“Earlier I mentioned some recently completed work on 565 that stopped at County Line Road,” Ivey said. “Well today, I am announcing that we will continue the expansion to Wall-Triana. We’re closing the gap of those commuters.”
Last year I-565 was widened to six lanes from Interstate 65 to County Line Road and it’s also six lanes east of Wall-Triana Road. The 2-mile stretch in between that passes Huntsville International Airport, however, drops to four lanes. That’s left many commuters who live west of Huntsville cursing during morning and evening rush hours as the converging lanes cause traffic jams.
State Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, said he’s been pushing the Alabama Department of Transportation to widen the 2-mile stretch ever since 2018, when the widening project west of County Line Road was announced.
He said ALDOT Director John Cooper told him then that the traffic counts dropped off enough east of County Line Road that no expansion was necessary, but Orr believes that drop-off was merely because Redstone Arsenal commuters were “taking the goat trail around Boeing down the south side of the airport” to avoid the worst of the bottleneck.
“It’s one of the main complaints I get from constituents,” Orr said of the congestion.
ALDOT spokespersons on Thursday estimated construction on the widening project would begin in late 2023 or early 2024, but Orr said that schedule has been accelerated — partly due to the financial participation of the governments in Madison County — and he expects it to be completed by late 2023 or early 2024.
Orr said the $50 million cost of the I-565 project, which is more than double the cost of widening 7 miles of the interstate from I-65 to County Line Road, was one factor that left ALDOT hesitant.
“You’ve heard that the squeaky wheel gets the grease. I’ve been a squeaky wheel on this project when it comes to ALDOT and the administration,” Orr said.
Orr said he expects Redstone Arsenal and Marshall Space Flight Center, which have had fewer in-person employees since early in the pandemic, to fully reopen soon. That, he said, adds urgency to the project.
“When they open up again, 565 will become a tremendously congested roadway again. Getting this bottleneck cleaned up will be extremely helpful, sooner rather than later,” Orr said.
ALDOT spokesman Seth Burkett said the need for widening the remainder of I-565 was obvious.
“Anyone that drives 565 every day is aware of the need for us to expand this corridor,” Burkett said. “The project that was just completed (widening I-565 from I-65 to County Line Road) has of course been very beneficial to traffic flow, but you are still left with a short section there when you get across the Madison County line where it does go down to two lanes in each direction.
“When we were working on the previous project it was obvious to us that this would have to be a priority for us going forward to go ahead and complete this section so that we complete the six-lane corridor all the way from I-65 through Huntsville.”
ALDOT communications director Tony Harris said U.S. 72 will be widened from Nance Road to Providence Main. That project also has an estimated price tag of $50 million. He said a timetable on the project, which requires acquiring numerous rights of way, relocating utilities and widening a bridge, is still being determined. The other project announced by Ivey was a widening of Alabama 53 in Madison County from Taurus Drive to Harvest Road.