It’s no surprise that traffic continues to increase on Mississippi’s roadways, but there are few surprises in where those busiest spots are. The Jackson metro area of Hinds, Madison and Rankin counties, along with Harrison County on the Coast, are the only four counties making the top five high-volume lists for interstate, U.S. highway, state highway and interchange locations.
The Mississippi Department of Transportation (MDOT) tracks traffic volume based on average audited daily traffic (AADT). Comparing recently released numbers with those from one year ago, the five busiest interstate locations remain in Hinds County with a bit of shifting between locations, all within the Jackson city limits.
In a dramatic change from last year’s figures, the top five high-volume U.S. highway locations are now on U.S. 49 in Harrison County where hurricane rebuilding and recovery activities are underway. That top five listing was shared with Lamar and Rankin counties last year.
The other AADT categories — top five state highway locations and top five interchanges, volume wise — are in Hinds, Rankin and Madison counties as they were last year.
Traffic, transportation, development
MDOT’s executive director Butch Brown points out the importance of traffic and a good transportation system for economic development. “We see a big increase in the Tunica area because the new Interstate 69 is open from I-55 to Tunica,” he said. “That has greatly eliminated congestion and development there has already begun. We’re working with Tunica County to extend I-69 down to Clarksdale, too.”
The next phase of that project will take the roadway east to U.S. 78, which will become Interstate 22, and Brown feels economic development there will be imminent.
“The Toyota plant will be on the east side of I-69 and suppliers to them will be coming in,” he said. “We’re seeing a lot of new activity around Columbus with ServerCorr, Peterbilt, EuroCopter, Aurora and others.”
There is an enormous amount of interest to increase Mississippi 15 to four lanes, especially around Ripley where there’s a lot of furniture manufacturing. “We want to four lane it from the Coast to Tennessee,” he said. “We build for two reasons: the level of traffic and for economic development. If we had started last year, it would be too late.”
Brown said the highway system is experiencing severe growing pains on the Coast where rebuilding is underway along with numerous condominium and casino projects. Additional population of 15,000 is predicted just for condos.
“The Bay St. Louis Bridge is open now so you can watch and see businesses blooming there along with residential development on the Henderson Point side,” he said. “We will also rebuild Highway 90 and hope to open the new Ocean Springs Bridge two or three weeks early. That will help the casinos that are sitting at a dead end now in Biloxi.”
Highways in Picayune and Hattiesburg are experiencing traffic increases, too, as growth and development continue in those areas. Much of it is centered around the University of Southern Mississippi’s research park off Interstate 59 and on the Evelyn Gandy Parkway.
There’s a lot of highway activity in the bustling Jackson metro area. “We’re five laning Highway 51 between Madison and Ridgeland,” Brown said. “…the project should be complete this fall.”
Four new interstate connectors — two each into Madison and Ridgeland — are being constructed. Future growth is expected in areas where two new outlet malls have announced plans to build. One is in the Madison-Ridgeland area on the east side of I-55 and the other in Pearl near the Bass Pro Shop.
“We’re trying to provide access,” Brown said. “They build it, and we build the highways.”
One booming part of the metro area where he says MDOT has about exhausted possibilities is the Lakeland Drive region. “We have no more right of way there,” the director said. “If we built 15 lanes, we would have 15 lanes of congestion.”
One possibility to eliminate some of that congestion is to move some through traffic to alternate routes, such as the proposed Airport Parkway from downtown Jackson to the airport. This project has the backing of the governor and Legislature and will be the state’s first toll road.
Elsewhere around the state, Brown lists other projects that include, preliminary work to develop Interstate 49 south of Jackson to Collins; straightening the S-curve on I-59 in Laurel along with new access; and two new interchanges and a bypass in Natchez involving the Natchez Trace and highways 61, 84 and 98.
“It’s hard to keep all the balls in the air,” he said. “We have 500 fewer people working than the department had in 1992, and we have more projects going on. Our people are working smarter.”
Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynn Lofton at firstname.lastname@example.org.