Jackson — The metro area remains the state’s busiest place, traffic wise. Interstate 55 is again the busiest highway throughout the state with large concentrations in the metro area. The Mississippi Department of Transportation (MDOT) tracks traffic volume based on average audited daily traffic (AADT).
These numbers are important to cities, counties, economic development organizations, business people and realtors — to name a few — because where there’s traffic, development follows and vice versa.
“We routinely provide volume numbers to entities planning future development activities,” MDOT executive director Butch Brown said. “With development, infrastructure becomes a massive concern.”
Trung Trinh, a transportation planner with MDOT, said the agency gets general requests for traffic counts from developers and from individuals wanting to open businesses.
“They want to see if the traffic in a location justifies their business. Traffic volume makes a difference,” he said.
Brown notes that the state’s trends for traffic volume are the same they have been in recent years. “Just look out Lakeland Drive and the way it keeps going and developing toward the east. We opened additional lanes a few years ago but people are moving farther away from town and commuting. New corridors bring more commercial development and that brings more traffic.”
How much is enough?
With increased traffic and the additional tax revenues of new business also come safety issues. Rankin County schools located on busy Mississippi 25 are concerned about that.
“We’ve talked about providing an interchange for safe passage at Northwest Rankin School on Highway 25,” Brown said. “We work with communities to make sure getting in and out of schools is safe in busy areas.”
It’s a combination of residential and commercial growth in the Lakeland/Highway 25 area, says Trinh. “There’s significant growth there from last year. That’s why some volume counts changed,” he said. “Some of it’s due to Dogwood Festival and other developments out there.”
With roadways and interchanges reaching capacity in that area, how much is enough? At some point, additional highways may give way to mass transit to move large numbers of people efficiently.
“We in the South aren’t prepared for mass transit, but it does have a future here,” Brown said. “The costs will ‘drive’ people (no pun intended) to using it. We have the infrastructure in place. We just need to refine it.”
Although there are no plans for additional mass transit in the Jackson area, he notes that the Legislature this year funded $100,000 to be used with a $400,000 federal grant to study a monorail system from Tunica to Memphis.
“We will have to change the mindset of people but it would be fast and efficient,” he said.
There’s more and more growth north of Jackson toward Canton, too, he added, and there’s talk of another I-55 interchange at Reunion Parkway north of Ridgeland.
“We build a multi-lane corridor and that opens commercial activity,” he said. “More people come. It’s like ‘build it and they will come.’ But then, we get people out there and have to get them back.”
The volume sites for the state’s top five interstate locations, top five U.S. highway locations and top five interchanges are the same as those released to the Mississippi Business Journal one year ago. There’s been a change, however, in the top five volume locations for state highways. With the current numbers, all five sites are in the Jackson metro area. The top two from last year switched places this year. Dropped from the top five are highway stretches in DeSoto County (Southaven) and in Jackson County (Ocean Springs).
MDOT is finishing the environmental stage for Interstate 269 which will run from Collierville, Tenn., to U.S. 78 in Mississippi and then to the west toward I-55. Brown said the department will move quickly to purchase right-of-way for the highway that will link to U.S. 78 and be renamed I-22 from Memphis to Birmingham.
“It will open up Northwest Mississippi like Northeast Mississippi,” he said. “That’s a vibrant area, too.
Learning a few lessons
Hurricane Katrina taught MDOT some lessons about where traffic is and where it will be in the future. “We now know where to expect the most traffic on the Gulf Coast,” Brown said. “The condos and rebuilt casinos will bring more traffic. We must make plans to move that traffic.”
The devastating storm also makes better evacuation routes more pressing and delivers an opportunity to build a roadway along the CSX Railroad tracks. “If the railroad gets relocated, we will build another east-west corridor with the cooperation of the community,” Brown said. “With that, we will have better evacuation and less congestion on Highway 49.”
MDOT currently has $4 billion in highway construction under contract. This year’s budget is $1.6 billion — twice the size of a normal year’s budget. That’s also because of Katrina and Brown anticipates it will remain the same next year.
Contact MBJ contributing Lynn Lofton at email@example.com.