New study explores benefits of Northern Beltline project

From Birmingham Business Journal

A regional economic development agency has released a new study on the potential impacts for Birmingham’s Northern Beltline – a controversial project already under construction.

The project, which would provide a northern bypass around the metro area, is estimated by the Appalachian Regional Commission to have an economic impact of $2.67 billion annually in the 10 years after it is complete.

The Northern Beltline is the 52.5-mile roadway that would serve as a northern complement to the Interstate 459 bypass. Supporters of the project have argued that the project, which is federally funded and would require no state matching funds, would boost development in the northern portions of the metro area and eventually reduce congestion along the highly traveled southern corridors. Opponents have said the roadway isn’t in line with 21st century residential preferences, would be detrimental to the environment and say the money could be better spent on other projects. They have also cited the substantial costs of the multibillion-dollar project.

The Alabama Department of Transportation broke ground on the first 1.34-mile segment, near Palmerdale and Pinson, in April 2014. The second phase will begin in 2019.

The ARC’s recent study, Economic Analysis of Completing the Appalachian Development Highway System, estimates the completed project could create nearly 14,000 jobs with projected average income of $61,691, which is higher than the current statewide average said the report.

The Northern Beltline project is a part of a 3,662-mile system that spans 13 Appalachian states, of which the Northern Beltline is part.

“This roadway will help evenly distribute wealth throughout the entire region and encourage commercial and residential growth, much like Interstate 459 has done south of Birmingham,” said Brian Hilson, president of the Birmingham Business Alliance. “In addition to adding safety and efficiency benefits to our infrastructure, completion of the Northern Beltline will provide new opportunities because of accessibility for our workforce, and open up new sites for economic development around communities in need.”