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TideFans’ Guide to a Gameday Weekend:
Travel

by 4Q Basket Case
TideFans Moderator
*updated 4/20/2019*

If You Fly

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 in Birmingham on I-59/20 , on I-59/20 just outside of Tuscaloosa and on Lurleen Wallace Boulevard in downtown 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.

Gameday Traffic

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. Then there’s the construction and fallout from that…

Construction Work and Closure in Downtown Birmingham

Right now and through the 2019 season, there will be construction work, and it’s nasty – In downtown Birmingham, a major re-do of what the locals call “Malfunction Junction” – the interchange where I-65 and I-59/20 meet – is just about finished.

The bigger mess has just begun.  There’s an elevated stretch of 59/20, running through the heart of downtown Birmingham.  It’s closed – All lanes in both directions – and will be until spring of 2020.

If you’re coming into Birmingham on I-65 north or south, you’re fine.  If you’re coming into Birmingham from the east, though, there are two options:

  • I-459 – Because of the diverted traffic from what would normally go over the closed stretch, traffic is always heavy, and there are lots of tractor-trailer rigs. If there’s a wreck, it’s always been a mess.  Now, with the heavier traffic, it’s a huge mess with a wreck.
  • Surface street detour – My personal choice. You follow the signs off the interstate and detour on surface streets around the closure and maneuver back onto 59/20 on the other side of the closure.  It’s really not so bad in regular traffic.  Adds 15 minutes or so, but to my mind, the 459 alternative is worse.

I can’t believe I’m writing this, but it really does look like ALDOT did a good job planning for the closure.  Football traffic will stress their plans, but I’m more optimistic than I was before the closure.

Still, leave early and bring your patience.

Tuscaloosa Construction – Interstate and Downtown

Closer to Tuscaloosa, I-59/20 is widening to 3 lanes each way, including bridge work on two major viaducts – going on between Exit 77 and Exit 73 (McFarland).

Additionally, Lurleen Wallace Boulevard is undergoing a major re-do.  It’s the primary route off of and onto I-359 in and out of downtown Tuscaloosa.  They’re taking it down to the dirt, and reconstructing the road.  So it doesn’t look to me like it’ll be ready for football season.  I’ll update as September approaches.

I’d actually suggest taking the 15th Street exit right, then taking the first left onto Greensboro Avenue and drive into downtown Tuscaloosa that way.

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.

Suggested Route

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).  Take the 15th Street Exit to your right.  Then take the first left onto Greensboro Avenue .  Cross streets are numbered, and you’re moving down the number order – 14th Street, then 13th, 12th, 11th, then Paul Bryant (a/k/a 10th Street), etc.

Turn right onto 7th Street, and continue a block or two to the Downtown Parking Deck.  Parking is free.  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.

Park & take shuttle to campus

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.

Return

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, construction, 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.


***UPDATES***

4/20/2019 – Updated to include additional details on I-59/20 construction in Birmingham and Lurleen Wallace Boulevard construction Tuscaloosa.