JACKSON — In the midst of traffic barricades, piles of brick and torn up sidewalks, contractor Tim Temple heard more than a few complaints from people who worked and walked along Congress Street in downtown Jackson.
Jackson Mayor Harvey Johnson’s reply: “These aren’t complaints, this is progress,” and Temple agreed.
After nearly a year of construction, that progress is evident. Well over a million bricks — some new, some old — cover the street and sidewalks of three blocks of Congress Street.
Buildings once hidden by trees can be seen again thanks to landscaping, and the street is lined with new lamps and park benches.
What people won’t see, however, is the mammoth amount of work that was done below their feet, under the street. Since last June, workers have put in a water main, sewer lines and manholes, storm piping, electrical lines and underdrain piping, all in an extremely congested area. Working under a street as old as Congress Street, no one could have foreseen the conditions workers would find when they went underground — telecommunication lines, water and sewer lines, and a maze of other pipes, some of which were encased in concrete.
“Any time you’re working in a downtown environment, you run into some unexpected things that can’t possibly show up in the survey,” said Calvin Hudson, buildings and grounds manager for the City of Jackson. “There is a mesh of infrastructure, some of which we had to replace, some we had to avoid, and some we wished we had avoided.”
Congress Street dates back to the original city layout, making it over 150 years old. The history of this street includes what is believed to be the state’s first telephone manhole, which is still in use today with its original cover. The nearby Governor’s Mansion was probably the first building in the area to have a telephone, and a telephone connection most likely ran up the street to what is now the Old Capitol.
For Temple, project manager for Hemphill Construction Co. Inc., and ABMB Engineers Inc., which drew up the plans, the challenge was to work around this history and be flexible to changes. Getting from A to B sometimes required a C, even a D, and that did not include what was happening up above on the street.
“That’s what made this project so complex,” said Temple. “There were so many components.”
Above ground, about a half million bricks were dug up in the two blocks between Amite and Pearl streets. About 300,000 of those bricks were reused for pedestrian crosswalks; the rest could not be salvaged.
The street itself was laid with new concrete pavers, a more durable brick than the clay pavers used to build houses. Underneath that brick lies about nine inches of asphalt, covered by a layer of sand. Neel-Schaffer Inc. handled the traffic signals and lighting; landscape architect Overton Moore designed the street’s layout.
The $2.4-million Congress Street beautification project was recommended in the early 1990s by consultants hired by the city to draw up a downtown plan. After the recommendation, the city began looking for money to pay for such a project and found federal funding to cover 80% of participating construction.
The Congress Street project is part of a much bigger plan to revitalize the downtown area. Future plans are to renovate the remainder of Congress Street north to the New Capitol and south to the post office in a similar fashion to the original project. Still another plan is to renovate several blocks of Capitol Street from the train depot to the Old Capitol and reinstall trolley tracks. So far, the city has not been able to locate federal funding for these projects.
At a dedication ceremony held on May 18, Johnson said the Congress Street project is the first major downtown redevelopment effort the city has seen in a long time.
“The reopening of Congress Street shows our city is moving forward, and I look forward to future projects like the revitalization of Union Station, the King Edward Hotel, the Farish Street entertainment district and the downtown convention center,” he said.
Contact MBJ contributing writer Kelly Russell at email@example.com or (601) 364-1018.