WAAY 31 I-Team Investigation: 565's frustrations, failings & future

Our WAAY 31 I-Team Investigation takes an in-depth look at the problems plaguing I-565, how too many cars and too few lanes are making mornings miserable for North Alabama drivers and what's next for 565.

Posted: Jul 12, 2018 7:37 PM
Updated: Jul 12, 2018 10:51 PM

Our WAAY 31 I-Team Investigation digs below the surface into the fight to find a fix for traffic tie-ups on I-565.

The Interstate spur is often a headache for commuters. Now some local leaders are saying it could become a matter of life or death. And 565’s current state might keep new companies with new jobs from moving in.

"I love y'all," Nikki Hooker told her two children.

"Bye, Mommy! Bye," they collectively called out.

Saying goodbye to Mitchell and Marley, Nikki heads out from home in Morgan county.

Nikki, who's a nurse, is on her way to work in Huntsville. She loves her job. But getting there, that's a different story.

A sunny Somerville sky paints a peaceful picture. But, whatever peace she was enjoying begins to give way to anxiety.

Nikki knows what's coming next: another white-knuckle morning filled with 565 frustration. The headache begins as soon as she tries to get off I-65.

Nikki Hooker driving to work in another 565 traffic jam

"It's frustrating,” Nikki told WAAY 31 as we rode along for her morning commute. “It's awful. You have a panicked feeling of 'Are these people going to let me over?'."

Brake lights! The onramp looks more like a parking lot.

"And it's stop-and-go, stop-and-go," Nikki said.

Cars creep and crawl into a big bottleneck. "Like right here, trying to get over, it's just too many people."

Traffic flow failure on 565 is frequent.

"Most of the time, I'm late for work," Nikki told us. "You're in the car for about an hour in the mornings on the way to work."

I-565 means misery for many morning commuters. And Nikki says misery has plenty of company. "If you look over at other people, they look just as down and depressed as you."

The solution seems simple. "I think they should add a lane or two to 565," she explained.

Nikki’s not alone

“565 needs widening,” Decatur mayor Tab Bowling told WAAY 31.

Decatur Mayor Tab Bowling

Bowling is thankful for the Mazda-Toyota plant coming to Greenbrier.

“This will be for generations to come,” he said. “So, we’re very thankful.”

But, Bowling’s worried 565 is failing North Alabama.

So, he and other local leaders are applying political pressure. Tuscumbia, Muscle Shoals, Limestone County, Hartselle, Priceville and Decatur expressed their 565 fears.

They started a campaign to remind voters they can persuade Governor Kay Ivey and Democratic challenger Walt Maddox at the ballot box.

“We’re going into an election cycle,” Bowling told us. “And I believe leaders in North Alabama will come together and look for gubernatorial candidates – now that we’re down to two, Governor Ivey and the Democratic candidate Walt Maddox – and looking for commitments from them to make the necessary improvements for 565. That will influence a lot of voters in North Alabama

Planning for Mazda-Toyota, Mayor Bowling was part of a Tennessee Valley team that visited the Hyundai car factory in Montgomery. They saw how much traffic it creates.

“These are items like tires and batteries that they don’t want to warehouse,” Bowling said. “They come in on a truck. They take them off the truck and take them in directly to the work cell and put them on the vehicle.”

Bowling’s background is in automobile manufacturing supply-chain management. He knows firsthand how the auto-making process relies on just-in-time shipments. Just-in-time means minimal inventories at the plant. But, it also means a constant stream of trucks on the roads.

“Hyundai receives a truck a minute,” Bowling told WAAY 31. “Do the math on that and what that will mean to I-565.”

Bowling says improving I-565 could also be a matter of life or death.

“Whenever we have a need for bypass surgery, we have severe trauma, we have things relate to concerns with a birth -- those are typically things transferred to Huntsville Hospital,” the mayor said. “Huntsville Hospital is now that mothership, if you will. We can’t Medflight everyone to Huntsville Hospital. And so ground transport is very typical.”

Coming from the west, ambulance crews count on a clear shot down 565.

“We don’t want or need an incident on 565 where we can’t get through,” Bowling explained. “So, we’re also looking at lives.”

Lives and livelihoods.

565’s failings could keep other employers from moving in. And that would cost you and your neighbors new jobs.

Senator Arthur Orr told WAAY 31, “It is weighing on other projects considering locating along that corridor.”

Mayor Bowling insists ignoring 565 could hurt economic development across several North Alabama counties.

"It's a very big thing,” he told us. “It's important and critical to the growth of our city and I believe cities west of 65.”

WAAY 31 reached out to the Alabama Department of Transportation.

ALDOT said the Greenbrier interchange is just weeks from beginning.

Also, a traffic study is happening right now to see what traffic flow to Mazda-Toyota and nearby industry might eventually look like.
Once the study is done, likely in October according to ALDOT, the process to improve I-565 will begin.

Instead of major changes to 565, ALDOT tells WAAY 31 a fix could, for example, mean upgrading the I-65 Tanner interchange. Still, that would take pressure off 565. Plus, ALDOT points out the city of Huntsville is building the new five-lane Greenbrier Parkway which will be an alternative to 565.

ALDOT told us potential roadblocks to fast-tracking 565 upgrades include cutting regulatory red tape because of the Wheeler Wildlife Refuge.

So, work is underway on 565-related projects. But, those relatively small steps are far from the multi-million-dollar leap needed to widen 565.

“If no action is taken on 565,” Bowling said, “we have concerns about our ability to grow as a community.”

565’s real roadblock is money.

Senator Orr tells WAAY 31 there may be no local options.

“A Fuel tax at the local level would come nowhere near the $150-million needed,” Orr told us. “In the current funding climate, I believe we are probably a few years away from meaningful progress.”

Money is what it would take to push the gas pedal on widening 565.

“It really comes down to money,” Bowling said. “And the governor is the one that will make that decision.”

Representative Mike Ball calls North Alabama a battleground for Ivey and Maddox. He says that’s a plus in the fight to fix 565. And with a long list of state legislature leaders calling the Tennessee Valley home, Ball tells WAAY 31 he’s convinced lawmakers will commit to find funding.

WAAY 31 reached out to Governor Kay Ivey about 565’s future.

“It is the priority of my administration to ensure that the wheels of commerce can flow and that Alabamians can get to and from work in a safe and timely manner,” Governor Ivey told WAAY 31. “I have instructed ALDOT to look at the I-565 widening and to continue with the traffic study process.”

Ivey pointed out preliminary work has already begun. “Infrastructure improvements are underway along and near I-565, including the Greenbrier Interchange,” the governor told us. “We will see additional improvements that will help with the area’s expanding mobility needs. We must also coordinate with other ongoing projects and through consultation determine what the exact needs are for the area.”

We also wanted to hear how Walt Maddox weighs in on the 565 issue.

“Walt supports the Alliance for Alabama’s Infrastructure plan to improve roadways throughout the state,” Chip Hill with the Maddox campaign told us. “This includes prioritizing highway projects while also improving funding.”

Hill said I-565 is no exception. “The Alabama Department of Transportation has said that completing the I-565 project is a ‘high priority' project. At this point in time, as a candidate for governor, Walt would defer to the state’s experts as to the importance of I-565 compared to other needs throughout the state,” he told us.

Hill said it’s the position of the Maddox campaign that “the project should move forward with all deliberate speed while ALDOT continues its core mission to maintain and improve all state highways.”

As for the road ahead, Mayor Tab Bowling says improving I-565 is a must.

“Growing like we are, we need to have a bigger vision. But, this is the first step along the way.”

Meanwhile, on her way home, Nikki Hooker’s road ahead can be just as frustrating as her morning commute. “In the afternoons, it's just as bad because all the people that come in with you, they all go home with you, too."

Huntsville
Clear
48° wxIcon
Hi: 69° Lo: 46°
Feels Like: 45°
Florence
Clear
55° wxIcon
Hi: 72° Lo: 46°
Feels Like: 55°
Fayetteville
Clear
53° wxIcon
Hi: 68° Lo: 45°
Feels Like: 53°
Decatur
Clear
57° wxIcon
Hi: 70° Lo: 49°
Feels Like: 57°
Scottsboro
Clear
53° wxIcon
Hi: 69° Lo: 47°
Feels Like: 53°
WAAY Radar
WAAY WAAY-TV Cam
WAAY Temperatures

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 530011

Reported Deaths: 10946
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson763591519
Mobile40875804
Madison34676503
Tuscaloosa25717451
Montgomery24308585
Shelby23389248
Baldwin21093307
Lee15844169
Calhoun14481313
Morgan14281279
Etowah13813353
Marshall12203222
Houston10553280
Elmore10036205
Limestone9952150
Cullman9647193
St. Clair9634239
Lauderdale9413241
DeKalb8821185
Talladega8210175
Walker7222277
Autauga6914108
Jackson6803111
Blount6645136
Colbert6291134
Coffee5503118
Dale4826111
Russell440038
Chilton4263111
Franklin425482
Covington4120117
Tallapoosa4006152
Escambia393276
Chambers3559123
Dallas3544151
Clarke350861
Marion3111100
Pike310177
Lawrence299898
Winston273772
Bibb260463
Marengo249164
Geneva248777
Pickens233760
Barbour230757
Hale222577
Butler215869
Fayette212062
Henry188744
Cherokee184345
Randolph179941
Monroe177040
Washington167039
Macon158650
Clay155956
Crenshaw151957
Cleburne148741
Lamar141834
Lowndes138553
Wilcox127029
Bullock123041
Conecuh110129
Perry107526
Coosa107128
Sumter104332
Greene92334
Choctaw60424
Out of AL00
Unassigned00

Tennessee Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 852072

Reported Deaths: 12245
CountyCasesDeaths
Shelby955251616
Davidson89317933
Knox50606634
Hamilton44219493
Rutherford43026434
Williamson27986217
Sumner23978349
Montgomery20232225
Wilson18779233
Out of TN1839297
Unassigned17048134
Sullivan16760294
Blount15486193
Bradley15010149
Washington14582245
Maury13493172
Sevier13377175
Putnam11376175
Madison11164242
Robertson9755131
Anderson8758172
Hamblen8604173
Greene7864155
Tipton7349103
Coffee6903121
Dickson6835110
Cumberland6726132
Carter6628158
Gibson6524145
McMinn650698
Bedford6502128
Roane6281105
Jefferson6198124
Loudon612469
Hawkins6050107
Lawrence593087
Monroe583795
Warren554881
Dyer5423106
Franklin514690
Fayette506177
Cheatham454755
Obion453896
Cocke449699
Lincoln435263
Rhea434375
Marshall418658
Campbell415463
Weakley412564
Giles3995100
Henderson378876
White363270
Macon361778
Carroll361483
Hardin357167
Hardeman351864
Lauderdale318544
Henry317976
Claiborne317773
Marion312547
Scott311645
Overton300861
Wayne296134
Hickman283846
McNairy281654
DeKalb279554
Smith277439
Haywood271162
Grainger262550
Trousdale250022
Morgan249739
Fentress241347
Johnson240839
Chester214351
Bledsoe214011
Polk207624
Crockett203448
Unicoi203449
Cannon192031
Union190534
Humphreys179526
Grundy179234
Lake170326
Sequatchie169729
Benton165940
Decatur158639
Lewis158126
Meigs138825
Stewart132428
Jackson131936
Clay110131
Houston109333
Perry106628
Moore101017
Van Buren84623
Pickett75924
Hancock58912

Community Events