A Pivotal Highway Link in Alabama Makes Its Debut

May 20, 1981

In north-central Alabama, a ceremony was held for the opening of a segment of Interstate 65 (I-65) located south of Birmingham. This 11.7-mile (11.8-kilometer) portion of I-65 had been built between the Birmingham suburbs of Alabaster and Hoover, and the debut of that link was welcomed with a great deal of fanfare.

One big reason for this was that, with the elimination of what had been a longtime local gap in I-65, a large number of drivers could now keep traveling on that highway without needing to take a detour via the generally congested U.S. Route 31 (US 31). As one local government official remarked in an interview with the Associated Press (AP), the frequent traffic-tie-ups on US 31 in that part of Alabama had “strengthened the vocabulary of millions of motorists.”

In an even broader context, that completed stretch of I-65 had been what an AP news story characterized as the “missing link” in plans for a direct Interstate highway connection between Montgomery and Birmingham. For more than two decades, many state residents had voiced hopes for that type of non-stop route between Alabama’s two largest cities.

During the inaugural festivities for that link, Alabama Governor Fob James cut a ribbon to help formally open the latest addition to I-65. He also squirted paint from a striping machine to symbolically finish up the final 200 feet (61 meters) of the segment. In his remarks to those in attendance, James called this Interstate highway project “a wonderful construction job, a thing of art.” Other public officials participating in that Wednesday afternoon ceremony included Bobby J. Kemp, director of the Alabama Highway Department (the present-day Alabama Department of Transportation).

At the time of that opening, spokesmen for the Alabama Highway Department confirmed that it cost $74.8 million and took two years to complete the project. While celebrated as a major milestone for I-65, this project was not the capstone for Alabama’s share of that highway. Later that same year, a section of I-65 crossing the Mobile River in the southern section of the state was opened to traffic. Alabama’s last remaining portion of I-65 – a 14-mile (22.5-kilometer) stretch linking the city of Warrior with the community of Lewisburg in the area just north of Birmingham – was finished in 1985.

The portion of I-65 in Alabama measures 366 miles (589 kilometers) altogether and it is the longest of the Interstate highways within that state. Alabama’s section of I-65, which extends from the city of Mobile on the Gulf Coast to the border with Tennessee in the north, was officially designated “Heroes’ Highway” in 2002 to honor both those who were killed during the al-Quaeda attacks on September 11 of the previous year and those who have since lost their lives in the War on Terrorism.

In its entirety, I-65 is an 887.3-mile (1,428-kilometer) highway that also courses through Tennessee, Kentucky, and Indiana. Alabama’s section of that highway is one of 11 Interstate routes in the state. These routes, encompassing a total of 1,130 miles (1,820 kilometers), are each maintained by the Alabama Department of Transportation.

For more information on Interstate 65, please check out https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Interstate_65


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