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Long-awaited downtown-airport corridor project moving

Jackson — The long-awaited, $318-million airport parkway project, linking downtown with Jackson-Evers International Airport, is being moved another step toward construction as an engineering firm begins acquiring some 150 properties on which the parkway will be built.

The acquisitions, in Jackson, Flowood and Pearl, will cost $18 million. Actual construction, which will take at least five years, needs additional federal and state funding to begin.

Of 103 properties to be bought in Flowood, six have been acquired, according to Jim Hust, an engineer with Waggoner Inc., which is in charge of the purchasing. There are also 24 properties needed in Pearl and 24 in Jackson.

The acquisition process will take a year to complete. Twenty-five residents will have to move. Property owners have been notified by mail. Hust said that the owners will be sent additional notification before being contacted by an acquisition agent.

The three cities will take title to the properties when they are acquired. On completion of the parkway project, the titles will be transferred to the Mississippi Department of Transportation (MDOT). The project is overseen by the Airport Parkway Commission, which consists of the mayors of Flowood, Pearl and Jackson. Gary Rhoads, Flowood’s mayor, is the chairman.

“I’ve been mayor for 16 years, and the parkway has been in the works for 15 years,” Rhoads said. “It’s one of the major road projects that could relieve lots of congestion.”

Getting it started

The genesis of the parkway was the Legislature’s 1990 passage of a bill which authorized MDOT to develop a project to connect Jackson to the airport. In 1991, there was authorization and funding under Section 1108 of the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act.

When the Airport Parkway Commission was created in 1995, MDOT required that the commission hire an engineering consulting firm with experience and a national reputation in this kind of work. The firm of PBS&J, with 3,700 employees and 70 locations, was hired. PBS&J’s Richard Young is the project’s director.

“As general engineering consultants and the firm that hires and oversees other engineering firms, we’re not allowed to do any of the actual design or construction,” Young said.

Three engineering firms — together called the Mississippi Engineering Group — were selected:

• Waggoner Inc.: Acquisition of the properties. Also, some design work.

• Neel-Schaffer: Design work, such as structures and bridges.

• Pickering Engineering: Design, earthwork.
The three firms divided up the work among themselves.

“The design work is 90% completed,” Young said.

Once all the properties have been acquired, the next step will be construction but MDOT doesn’t have the funds in hand yet. Young said that the most common funding method is for federal funds that require matching state funds to be appropriated.

When funding is in place, the parkway project will proceed like any other MDOT project and MDOT will advertise for bids.

“Ultimately, everything has to be approved by MDOT. All the invoices from engineering firms are checked by PBS&J and then sent to MDOT for payment. MDOT is the bottom line in everything.”

Young indicated that when the Airport Parkway Commission was formed in 1995, MDOT didn’t have the money for the parkway in its regular budget, and it was hoped that the three mayors could lobby and apply pressure on the congressional delegation.

“They’ve done a fantastic job,” Young said.

As of June, the total funding for the parkway project is $33.7 million. Of this, $27.9 million is federal money and $5.7 million is from the state.

Funding for the west segment of construction (I-55 through Mississippi 468) is approximately $183 million; for the north segment (connection to Mississippi 25) is approximately $52 million; and for the east segment (connection to the airport) approximately $83 million.

This totals approximately $318 million for the parkway project.

Making the connections

The parkway will pass through Hinds and Rankin counties to connect the airport with downtown Jackson. The route begins at High Street, near I-55 and includes connectors to Pearl and Pascagoula Streets and to Fortification Street. It proceeds east some five miles to Old Brandon Road and then proceeds north to connect with Mississippi 25 at Lakeland Drive.

Waggoner has been working with the parkway project since 1995. The firm helped to complete the function design of the parkway in 2002.

Waggoner has completed a number of projects at the airport, including the International Air Cargo Park, which is located at what the firm calls the “optimum location” for truck access to I-20 and I-55 and which will eventually be connected to the airport parkway from downtown Jackson.

The cargo park work consists of site work, utilities, grading and drainage, turn lanes for access to Mississippi 475, pavement and roadway design and landscaping for the cross taxiways, aircraft aprons, building sites, airport docking facilities, truck docks, pedestrian walkways and parking areas.

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

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