Interstate 59 angles northeasterly from New Orleans through the Deep South to north Georgia outside Chattanooga, Tennessee. The freeway combines with I-20 along a 153 mile long overlap between Meridian, Mississippi and Birmingham, Alabama marking one of the longer concurrencies in the Interstate System. U.S. 11 follows the entire length of I-59 as well as I-81; the likely reason why these two highways do not carry the same number is the lengthy stretch of Interstate 75 that follows U.S. 11 between Chattanooga and Knoxville.
Although never actually making it into New Orleans, Interstate 59 provides an important evacuation and trucking route for the central Gulf Coast. The south end is located at the same interchange as the eastern terminus of Interstate 12, where I-10 curves from the greater New Orleans area eastward to the Mississippi Gulf Coast. Previous plans called for I-59 to be routed south along I-10 into New Orleans, but those changed with the decision to route I-12 north of Lake Pontchartrain.
Heading north from Louisiana, Interstate 59 follows a forested route through Mississippi, which is a general constant along most Deep South freeways. Hattiesburg, home of the University of Southern Mississippi, Laurel and Meridian are all important destinations in Mississippi. The freeway navigated along older urban stretches through the latter two cities. Of those, the S-curve in Laurel was notorious for its tight radii, narrow bridges and short exit ramps. It was modernized by September 2009.
I-20 and I-59 combine from a point just west of Meridian, Mississippi northeasterly to Tuscaloosa, where Interstate 359 spurs northward toward Downtown and the University of Alabama. The pair split with Interstate 459, the Birmingham belt line, at Bessemer City, as they bee line for Downtown Birmingham and an elevated viaduct east of the “Malfunction Junction” interchange with I-65.
A four year $450 million project replaced the roadways built in 1971 along I-59/20 between I-65 and U.S. 31/280 (Red Mountain Expressway) in Birmingham with a new viaduct system. The first of three phases for the work commenced in September 2015 at the exchange with I-65. Phase II completed work at Malfunction Junction by late 2018. Phase III involved the entire shutdown of I-59/20 by Downtown so that crews could demolish the old roadway and replace it. The new bridge system fully opened to traffic following a Dedication Ceremony attended by Alabama Governor Kay Ivey on January 17, 2020.4 Associated construction on the I-59 / I-20 Bridge Replacement Project continued throughout 2020.
East from Downtown, I-20/59 part ways by Birmingham Shuttlesworth International Airport (BHM) to Irondale and Trussville respectively. The section of Interstate 59 northeast of Birmingham straddles the southern reaches of the Appalachian Mountains along a scenic route. I-59 serves Gadsden along this stretch with Interstate 759, a short freeway spur. I-59 enters Georgia and eventually connects with I-24, which leads east to I-75 at Chattanooga, Tennessee.
Interstate 59 follows U.S. 11 for its entirety between Slidell, Louisiana and Wildwood, Georgia. Short overlaps bring U.S. 98 onto I-59 along the west side of Hattiesburg, U.S. 84 onto I-59 through Laurel and U.S. 80 alongside I-20/59 at Meridian, Mississippi.
U.S. 11/80 combine from Meridian east to Cuba, Alabama. Northeast between Eutaw and Tuscaloosa, Alabama, parallel U.S. 11 combines with U.S. 43. Within Birmingham, U.S. 78 ties into the I-59/20 overlap both west of Downtown and east at Irondale. U.S. 411 mirrors the course of I-59 northeast from Leeds to Gadsden and Weiss Lake in Alabama as well.
Within Louisiana, Interstate 59 was constructed first across the Pearl River as the replacement route for U.S. 11 at St. Rose in 1958. The stretch southward into Slidell, along with I-10 south to the Twin Bridges opened in 1965-66.
Interstate 59 in Mississippi opened initially from the Louisiana line toward Picayune and from Hattiesburg to Laurel in 1963. All of the route south of the overlap with I-20 was completed by 1969.2
Built in 1961, the S-curve in Laurel, Mississippi routed I-59 by an adjacent hospital and public housing project. The 0.75 mile long stretch was limited to a 40 MPH speed limit. Starting in 2005, work redesigned the freeway onto a new six lane 1,980 foot long elevated viaduct with improved geometry. Construction commenced in June 2006, leading to an August 2008 opening of the new northbound lanes and an overall completion in September 2009. Additional funding remained from the original S-curve project, resulting in the widening of two more miles of I-59 heading northward. This included expanding the freeway footprint and widening the median from four to 15 feet. That expansion project ran between October 2009 and Fall 2010.1
$16 million in road work took place between February 2002 and July 2004 at the three-wye interchange joining I-24 and I-59 in North Georgia. Work replaced 40 year old bridges and extended auxiliary lanes.3