The $125-million Airport Parkway project, which will link High Street to the Jackson Municipal Airport, is bogged down in the environmental study stage – for now.
The Airport Parkway Commission is waiting on the final draft of an environmental study to submit to the Mississippi Department of Transportation before the project can continue, said Flowood Mayor Gary Rhodes, commission chairman. The mayors of Flowood, Pearl and Jackson, through whose cities the project would flow, make up the commission.
“The airport parkway is not under contract until this is done and a public hearing is held,” said Rhodes. “We`re ready to go as soon as that`s completed.”
Jackson Mayor Harvey Johnson Jr. said he anticipates the project “coming to fruition.”
“We`re moving forward with the project,” Johnson said. “We`ve talked to homeowners regarding the purchase of property for immediate work to be done on High Street that we hope will be completed within the next 24 months.”
Richard Young, retired assistant chief engineer with MDOT and current manager of Mississippi operations for PBS&J, an international engineering firm and general managing consultants for the five-mile project, said the project began several years ago after action by the Mississippi legislature gave the state highway department authority to conduct a study connecting High Street with the Jackson Municipal Airport. The study was followed by congressional action which provided funding to the state, he said.
“The plan is to build a freeway-type connection from downtown Jackson to the airport area with connectors to I-20 and to Lakeland Drive,” Young said. “An engineering firm studied over a dozen possible route locations that concluded in a preferred alternate (route).”
The alternate route includes a Pearl River bridge directly opposite High Street, with connectors from Fortification Street, High Street, and Pearl/Pascagoula interchanges. The roadway would extend east toward the airport, with one leg connecting to I-20 at the Airport Road interchange and one leg connecting to Lakeland Drive near the Old Fannin Road intersection, Young said.
“The environmental document was presented to MDOT last December,” Young said. “MDOT asked for further study concerning a couple of interchanges in the Flowood area, and the environmental consultant has been working on those changes for the last several months.”
Construction limits will be determined by developing the grades for a more exact defining of the wetlands, said Young, who does not anticipate problems with the environmental study.
“All of this must go into the environmental documents so the necessary permits from the Corps of Engineers, Wildlife Fisheries & Parks people will know what wetlands will be taken,” Young said.
When environmental documents are complete, all information will be presented at a public hearing. Then, the proposal will be sent to the FAA for approval, Young said.
“Once approved, we can finalize the scope of the work and proceed with the design consultant,” he said. “The most logical first project would be completing the Pearl River bridge.”
Funding for the project has been provided, for the most part, by money appropriated under TEA-21, the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century passed by Congress, Young said.
“It should get us through the design stages and help us possibly acquire some of the right-of-way necessary, but there`s no money right now for actual construction,” Young said. “The goal is to have it designed in the next three years. We`ll go after funding under the next transportation bill unless other funds can be channeled our way.”
The latest estimate is approximately $125 million, but is constantly being revised, Young said.
“We don`t have a conceptual plan yet to make sure everything works,” he said. “For instance, I-55 is already a congested area. We`ll be bringing more traffic into the High Street, Pearl/Pascagoula area. We`ll have to make sure the number of lanes needed is being designed and the level of service will be provided and maintained. Then we`ll know more how to estimate the cost of the project.”
After Mississippi 463 was constructed near the airport, FAA regulations concerning protected zones off the ends of runways that extend 2,500 feet were addressed, Young said.
“As we get into the design, we will be contacting the Jackson Airport Authority to make sure all issues of FAA regulations, if any, are satisfied,” Young said.
Dirk Vanderleest, executive director of the Jackson Municipal Airport Authority said the project will “open up economic development from downtown Jackson straight to the airport.”
“The project will benefit all parties – the cities of Jackson, Flowood, Pearl and the airport,” Vanderleest said. “For the convenience of our passengers and for air cargo development, it will enhance our transportation system.”