I-65/Bethel interchange would help with traffic, officials say as study moves forward
By Michael Wetzel
For the Enquirer
Putting exits on Interstate 65 at Bethel Road would provide needed alternatives for traffic in a growing area of Morgan County, officials say, and plans for a feasibility study on the potential interchange moved forward last week.
The Morgan County Commission approved paying its $6,666 portion of the study during fiscal 2023, which began Saturday.
In May, the Decatur-area Metropolitan Planning Organization placed $180,000 to help pay for the study, and the Morgan County Commission, Hartselle and Priceville are splitting the $20,000 match.
Morgan County District 2 Commissioner Randy Vest said the commission’s portion of the study cost is a prudent expenditure.
“We’re always looking at ways to alleviate traffic issues,” he said. He said a recent study showed that I-65 exits at Upper River Road in Priceville would be too close to the existing interchange at Alabama 67.
MPO Director Dewayne Hellums said Hartselle and Priceville have also approved their portion of the study funding.
Hellums said the MPO board will now begin the process of selecting a consultant to conduct the study.
“It will take about a month to select a firm and the study will begin and be finished in fiscal ’23,” he said. “We will hold a public meeting on the results of the study shortly after the results are announced.”
When an accident or detour occurs along I-65, Alabama 67, Alabama 36 or U.S. 31 in Morgan County, traffic often becomes snarled, Vest said.
“You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to see when there is a shutdown on any of those roads, it affects the others,” he said. “We’ve had wrecks and congestion result from it. And our rural county road roads have suffered damage from that. We saw that from the closure of Alabama 36 for nearly two years.”
The Alabama Department of Transportation replaced two bridges along Alabama 36 in rural Morgan County, closing a portion of the state highway.
Vest said the housing boom in east Hartselle provides another reason an interchange at Bethel Road would be beneficial. Presently, Bethel Road passes over I-65.
“We have a lot of growth in that area,” Vest said. “There are 500 to 750 houses planned off of 36 behind Cracker Barrel. An exit at Bethel will give motorists another option. We’ll wait and see what the study shows.”
Bethel Road is a 7.9-mile road that starts at Indian Hills Road, near the new Hartselle High School, goes over the interstate, crosses Alabama 67 and crosses Upper River Road in Priceville. It terminates to the north at Truck Trail, at an entrance to Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge.
The Bethel Road bridge over I-65 is about 1.7 miles from the Alabama 36 interchange to the south (Exit 328) and 3.8 miles from the Alabama 67 interchange to the north in Priceville (Exit 334.)