Gov. Robert Bentley and other leaders have broken ground on a 52-mile road that will someday complete a perimeter highway around Alabama's largest metropolitan area.
A ceremony was held Monday to mark the first phase of work on the Northern Beltline.
Bentley approved the first construction stage in the fall, but the project is expected to take more than 25 years to complete.
Environmental groups have filed suit to block the road, claiming the government ignored clean water rules to approve construction. They say the groundbreaking is a distraction to what they call a wasteful project. The road is expected to cost nearly $5.5 billion.
The beltline would connect with Interstate 459 southwest of Birmingham and Interstate 59 to the northeast, making it easier for travelers to avoid downtown.