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by 4Q Basket Case
If you’re planning on flying in, you’ll probably want to land in Birmingham and drive from there. In normal traffic, the Birmingham Airport is about an hour from Tuscaloosa. Atlanta is an option, but it’s about 3.5-4 hours each way, and you deal with the change in time zones.
Regardless of where you land, be sure to check ahead regarding detours. There is a lot of road construction going on both in Birmingham and on I-59/20 just outside of Tuscaloosa.
If you fly in on Saturday, gameday traffic will definitely disrupt the normal time frame. Depending on other construction delays, it could conceivably double the normal travel time.
If you’re driving in on I-59/I-20, traffic varies widely depending on a combination of quality of game, proximity of the opponent, and kickoff time.
Most people will be coming from or through Birmingham, so I’ll use that as the starting point. I’m also assuming that you didn’t spend Friday night in Tuscaloosa, and are driving in on gameday.
Under normal circumstances, with no construction and no wrecks, it’s about 60-75 minutes from Birmingham to Tuscaloosa.
Football traffic adds time. The closer to game time you’re hitting Birmingham, the heavier the traffic.
Plus, right now and through the 2018 season, there will be construction work – In downtown Birmingham, there’s a major re-do of what the locals call Malfunction Junction – the interchange where I-65 and I-59/20 meet. It’s a mess, and will be for a while.
Closer to Tuscaloosa, it’s widening to 3 lanes each way, including bridge work on two major viaducts – going on between Exit 77 and Exit 73 (McFarland).
Plan to be driving through Birmingham at least 4 hours before game time, earlier if you want the full gameday experience in Tuscaloosa. It’ll take 90 minutes to two hours to get to town, get parked and actually make your way onto campus. Hitting Birmingham 4 hours prior will will give you no more than 90 – 120 minutes or so to enjoy gameday atmosphere, The Strip, etc., and about 30 minutes to get into the stadium and to your seat.
Caveat: If it’s an 11:30am game, the inbound traffic flow gets compressed into a shorter time frame, and traffic from Birmingham to Tuscaloosa can start to build earlier.
The saving grace there is that, usually, the opponent for an 11:30am game is a non-conference directional school, and that cuts the crowd. If it’s an SEC opponent at 11:30am, I do my gameday enjoyment after the game.
For maximum enjoyment, plan to be in Tuscaloosa and on campus about 4 hours before game time. If you get there closer to kickoff, you’re going to have to make some compromises on your schedule.
Take I-59/20 to the I-359 spur (Exit 71). It pours traffic into downtown Tuscaloosa, and morphs into a surface street (Lurleen Wallace Boulevard). Cross streets are numbered, and you’re moving down the number order – 12th Street, then 11th, then Paul Bryant (a/k/a 10th Street), etc.
Turn right onto 7th Street. Cross Greensboro Avenue and continue a block or two to the Downtown Parking Deck. Turn left into the deck at the entrance between 23rd Avenue and 22nd Avenue.
If the deck is full, cruise around until you find something. Might be a few blocks away, but this is a generally safe area, and is patrolled on game days.
Starting 3 hours before game time, there’s a shuttle to campus from the Downtown Parking deck – $1 each way. You can ride it even if you don’t park at the deck. Take shuttle to campus. Or, if you’re early or just like to explore, the walk isn’t bad and takes you past some picturesque old Tuscaloosa neighborhoods along the way.
Other shuttles are available from on and off-campus parking. This includes shuttles from parking areas near the Recreation Center and local shuttles from various spots around town including University Mall. Check the UA Gameday Parking guide.
Go back the way you came. Yes, there will be heavy traffic. But imperfect though it may be, this is the best way.
Whatever you do, do NOT use McFarland / Hwy 82 to get to I-59/20 after a game.
It’s kind of complicated, and has to do with left hand turns, merging lanes on ramps and people not knowing any other way. Just believe me – you can use McFarland inbound, and to other destinations. You can use it outbound if it’s not game traffic. But don’t go to the interstate after a game via McFarland.