Sign language

Signs in Montgomery direct motorists along a variety of routes that for a time share the same stretch of asphalt.

Thursday, July 31, 9:46 a.m. – MONTGOMERY – From the Florida state line to the Alabama state capital, Alabama 21 is essentially an idiot-free road. You have to try to get lost, miss a turn, end up going east or west when you should be going north.

That changes when you get to Montgomery, which, as anyone who’s not wholly familiar with the city’s interstates and highways knows, isn’t as intuitive as you’d think. Visitors can get turned around here without trying.

Here, Alabama 21 no longer owns its own road. It shares them – with U.S. 80, for example, as you enter town from the southwest and pass by Montgomery’s airport, for example. The visuals of country roads in Lowndes and Wilcox counties are long gone.

If you trust Google maps – usually a fairly accurate source – Alabama 21 combines with virtually every other road in the capital, passes the First White House of the Confederacy, the Alabama State Capitol, Crampton Bowl and other notable spots before exiting on the north side on the way to Wetumpka.

On this, Google is wrong. The roads themselves haven’t changed, but the way the state routes drivers through this city on Alabama 21 has changed. If you’re not careful, you’ll end up lost and asking for directions.

If you travel Alabama 21 through Montgomery on the way north – say, to Calhoun County – you don’t pass any of those sites. Instead, it’s fairly simple.

From Hayneville south of Montgomery, 21 connects to 80 and they share the divided highway into the city. A large sign directs 21 travelers to an exit ramp on the right, a shared ramp with U.S. 31. You drive about a mile until signs show that 31 and 21 split left and right; you go right on 21.

That puts you on what Montgomery residents call South Boulevard. On it, you drive … and drive … and drive … for miles and miles around Montgomery’s southern and eastern sides. If you look at the map, you’ll get a headache: South Boulevard is a shared roadway with umpteen different state, county and U.S. roads. Alabama 21 is just one of them, and it’s hardly the most prominent on the signage.

Eventually, as you get to the northeast part of the city, you see a sign for the 231/21 split toward Wetumpka. That puts you on the Wetumpka Highway, which is what U.S. 231/Alabama 21 is called at that point.


Just remember. Google isn’t always right.

— Phillip Tutor