Lights fell on Alabama (Traffic Mike)

Reader wonders if fallen light along Red Mountain Expressway portends a future for the highway lighting issue.

William Sparkman’s real estate development job takes him across Alabama and the region. He estimates he logs about 65,000 miles a year roaming the roadways.
Going back and forth to Montgomery through the years, he started noticing something.
A light out here. Another there. And another, until whole areas were snuffed out.
Gradual — yet preventable — darkness, and not unlike the problem in many areas in metro Birmingham.
Lighting seems to be the bane of the Alabama driving experience. Throw in some heavy fog or a good hard rain at night through interchanges like Interstate 20/Interstate 459 in Irondale and you have about as much visibility as driving through an automatic car wash with the rotary brushes at full throttle.
“For two decades I would get upset at the highway lights not working properly or not at all, especially on the Birmingham interstates,” Sparkman said.
All the state and local government plans that came and went through the years. Reports of fixes that never materialized.
There’s a good collection in our arhcives of things said and written about lighting. We know the general basics: The Alabama Department of Transportation installs them on state roads, officials say. Cities maintain them, change bulbs and pay to power them, and ALDOT periodically reminds cities in the form of letters that they are to do this. ALDOT handles rural state road lighting.
Decades of watching darkness cloak the roads Sparkman so often travels have actually made him less angry.
He wonders if the problem is taking care of itself.
Driving the Red Mountain Expressway, he has noticed a light pole that has fallen to the ground near Red Mountain. In other places he has seen lights dangling from poles.
“In just a few short years, at the present rate, we won’t have to think about this issue any longer,” he said. “There simply won’t be any lights standing!”
He’s joking, of course.
To be fair, I’m sure no one in state or local government is trying to make sure all our roadways go dark. I don’t have exact figures, but I would think bulbs that big and that high and the wires serving them probably take good cash for upkeep. And, like most things, the longer they go uncorrected, the more expensive they become to fix.
It’s not all a lost cause. There’s progress in bits and pieces. This spring, ALDOT agreed to pay Fultondale’s 20 percent match for a $1.5 million project to re-light a stretch of Interstate 65 between Corridor X and Walker Chapel Road. Mayor Jim Lowery first asked the department for help in 2011.
A low bid was submitted for the project in April, but most recent word from ALDOT this past week is the project has not been finalized.
So, yeah, fits and starts. Not quick enough for those who must feel their way around in the dark at 60 mph to find an exit.
Taxpayer Sparkman’s assessment: “If they’re not going to fix them, not going to maintain them, then there’s no problem with it — just don’t spend the money to put them up,” Sparkman said.
Road rubbish: More household goodies this week.
  • I-65 northbound: Laundry basket and spilled clothing across the highway near Valleydale Road
  • I-65 southbound: Large piece of metal near Finley Boulevard, which caused several flat tires
  • Lorna Road: U-Haul dropped a load of lumber near I-65
  • I-59 southbound: Chair in the left lane near the First Avenue North exit.
Traffic Mike writes about traffic and roads in the Birmingham area. Contact Mike D. Smith at [email protected], @TrafficMike_BHM on Twitter or (205) 209-2878.

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