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Developers, owners, customers anticipate traffic improvements

Hattiesburg — Traffic that slows to a crawl, gridlock during rush hours, waiting what seems forever for a green light, as well as an outdated traffic signal system that tries to move efficiently the traffic flow of a steadily growing city with yesterday’s technology — all are anathema to developers, business owners and customers.

Hattiesburg, with its increasing population, annexations and constant openings of new businesses, has suffered all of these, and now the city is working on a two-part, $6-million project to alleviate traffic problems and speed the flow of cars along some of the city’s busiest streets.

Work on the eastern part of what is called the Hardy Street Project is under way and includes the installation of mast arm poles, LED-type traffic lights and connecting fiber optic cables that will link each traffic light to a control center at the city’s traffic office.

With the current control system, there are magnetic sensors beneath the pavement that set off a switch on each individual light.

These new poles and lights are being installed along Hardy Street at Park Avenue, Broad Street, Adeline Street, 21st Avenue and Hutchinson Avenue at a cost of some $1 million, according to Bennie Sellers, Hattiesburg’s director of public services. A federal “Intelligent Traffic System” grant covers $650,000 and funds from the city — $350,000 — will pay for the rest.

Hardy Street is Hattiesburg’s main east-west artery, and traffic along Hardy can have an impact on traffic for many blocks and an effect on vehicular flow from its eastern end beyond the city’s historic business district all the way out to its western end at the University of Southern Mississippi and the Forrest County-Lamar County line.

The work is being done by the city and two private contractors. Chain Electric Co. of Hattiesburg is putting in foundations and panels and B & B Electric of Brandon will install the fiber optic cables.

“These new LED-type lights provide better visibility and are less expensive,” Sellers said. “And the new mast arm poles will make the area more aesthetically pleasing.

“The lighting project will be completed by April, 2005, at the latest,” he said. “This will provide a quality improvement of east-west traffic flow. It will greatly improve ingress and egress and help businesses in the area.”

Sellers added that this stretch of Hardy Street where the work is being done was once residential but is now 95% to 98% commercial — small businesses and office buildings, as well as a few funeral homes and churches.

“Most of the construction along Hardy Street here is renovation of existing businesses,” Sellers said. “But plans have just been approved for a new strip mall on Hardy between 24th and 25th Streets. It will be 7,000 to 9,000 square feet and consist of up to five businesses.”

This eastern part of the project also includes a small amount of construction work to ease traffic stack-up on and off U.S. 49 at Hardy Street.

Daily traffic flow along Hardy Street ranges from 40,000 to 47,000 vehicles in the blocks nearing Highway 49, to some 29,000 down toward 21st Street and, nearing downtown, 11,000 to 21,000.

The second portion of the project is along the part of Hardy Street west of Highway 49 to Interstate 59. The area is 100% commercial and also passes along the edge of Southern Miss.
The work is being done to alleviate traffic problems that have plagued the Southern Miss area and includes widening roads, constructing new turning lanes and significant realignment of intersections at 29th Avenue, 31st Avenue and 34th Avenue.
This portion of construction is under the auspices of the Mississippi Department of Transportation, which will spend some $4 million on the project. The city is responsible for buying the property necessary for widening the roads. The cost to the city is expected to be between $800,000 and $1 million.

“Seventy-five percent of the land has already been bought,” Sellers said. “We should have it all purchased by November 1.”

This second phase of construction will begin in 2005.
The new mast arm traffic light poles will be installed by the beginning of December, according to Sellers.
When the fiber optic cables connect all the traffic signals, a controller will be able to alter the flow of traffic at each Hardy Street intersection when traffic is unusually heavy in one direction. The controller was installed at the end of August. At present, if the waiting time is changed on an individual light, workers can only change it at the light.
Sellers indicated that video monitors may be installed later so that the central traffic control office can monitor each intersection’s traffic situation.

Chain Electric was founded in 1955 by Bobby Chain. The firm is now “one of the fastest-growing commercial, industrial and utility contractors in the South,” according to a company spokesperson.

Some 100 workers are on job sites in Mississippi, Louisiana and Alabama, including utility systems in Lafayette, La. and Natchez and the Department of Transportation highway lighting near Nissan in Madison.

Contact MBJ contributing writer at George McNeill at mbj@msbusiness.com.

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