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Mississippi Economic Council hosts Minor, Hall and Brown for MEC Connect Web Call

Business leaders tune in to ‘flyover’ of transportation projects

Business leaders from throughout the state got a “flyover” of the multiple highway development projects across the state during a recent Mississippi Economic Council (MEC) Connect Web Call with the three Mississippi Transportation Commissioners.

“This presentation gave us a flyover of Mississippi’s future for transportation in the state,” says Blake Wilson, president of MEC. “Web calls like this allow people from all over state to participate in what is going on in the Capitol in a meaningful way. We bring individuals to your desk so you don’t have to drive to Jackson to meet with them.”

The sessions allow people to listen by telephone or via a computer that provides the benefit of being able to watch a PowerPoint presentation during the event.

Vital development tools

Wilson says improvements in transportation are vital to economic development in the state. He says the key is a strong vision combined with sustainable funding.

While outlining literally billions of dollars worth of present and future proposed highway projects, the transportation commissioners expressed concerns about the current high cost of fuel. Gasoline taxes used to fund highway repairs and improvements are based on a gallon of gas instead of the price. As the price goes up, there is concern that people will purchase less fuel resulting in fewer gas tax revenues.

The commissioners say oil at more than $100 per barrel oil doesn’t bode well for the future of transportation funding. Even if the Mississippi Department of Transportation (MDOT) receives the same amount of funding, in the past three years the cost of highway construction has gone out of sight. It is costing more to purchase property for highway right of ways, and with diesel at more than $4 per gallon, heavy equipment used for road building is costing more and more to operate.

Bill Minor, Northern District Highway Commissioner, spoke about the improvements underway and planned in the northern part of the state, including $413 million in projects on the board to turn existing highways into a future I-22 corridor from Memphis to the Alabama state line that would serve the new Toyota manufacturing site.

Minor says it would be a minimum of seven years before Interstate 269 would be complete and hook up to U.S. Highway 78 allowing it to become Interstate 22. Costs include $125 million from Interstate 55 to SR 305, $150 million from SR 305 to US 78, $88 million from U.S. 78 to SR 302 and $50 million for SR 302 to the Tennessee state line.

“This project will bring a lot of economic development to Mississippi,” Minor says.

Dick Hall, Central District Commissioner, touted the completion of the main span of the U.S. 82 Greenville Bridge. He says at 1,478 feet, it is the fourth-longest cable-stayed span in North America and one of the longest bridge spans of any type on the Mississippi river. The $110-million main span project was recently completed, and work is proceeding on building bridge approaches from Arkansas and Mississippi. Work began on the Arkansas approach in March 2006 and is scheduled for completion in the summer of 2009 at a cost of $66 million. The Mississippi side approach is 1.8 miles long. Work began in April 2006 on the $86-million project.

Also underway is a $32-million U.S. 82 bypass near Greenville that will provide six miles of interstate-like highway with two large interchanges.

Phase II of improvement to Mississippi 463 in Madison County is scheduled for completion in June 2008 with total cost of $19 million. This work includes a bridge over the railroad track that is used to ship product from the Nissan manufacturing facility. Another project is the $22-million Canton Parkway to connect a U.S. 51 at Nissan Boulevard. to Mississippi 43. The project is being developed by the City of Canton under MDOT oversight.

The estimated bid letting date is 2011 for a new Interstate 55 Gluckstadt interchange, a $14-million project. Hall says options include building a new interchange near the old interchange, which would allow the existing interchange to be used until the new one opens, or tearing down the interchange and building another in its place. Hall says there would be ample opportunity for public comment on which alternative to pursue.

Other Central District projects include phase one construction of four new lanes on Mississippi 19 in Lauderdale County from Collinsville to the Newton Line. It is estimated bids will be let in May 2007 at an estimated construction cost of $30.7 million.

Design-build paying off

Big news in the Southern District is the completion of the U.S. 90 bridges. Wayne Brown, Southern District Highway Commissioner, says both bridges built to replace those destroyed by Hurricane Katrina were completed quickly due to using the design-build model.

“Design-build is a new way of doing business for MDOT where you design and build at the same time,” Brown says. “This is a hurry up way of doing a project.”

Granite Construction Company, in a joint venture with Archer Western Contractors, completed the $266-million bridge over the Bay of St. Louis that has 85 feet of vertical clearance, four lanes and a pedestrian/bicycle lane.

“I didn’t think many people would use the pedestrian/bicycle lane,” Brown says. “We have all been pleasantly surprised that it is getting great use. There are great views from the bridge.”

Brown says the pedestrian/bicycle lane is also popular on the new U.S. 90 bridge over Biloxi Bay. GC Constructors received the $338.6-million contract for rebuilding the Biloxi-Ocean Springs bridge. On April 6, all six lanes of the bridge were opened.

Brown also says work is progressing on gaming roads on the Gulf Coast, highway construction being paid for by gaming revenues including the widening of Mississippi 67 that will relieve traffic congestion on U.S. 49 and Interstate 10 in Gulfport by allowing a shortcut to Biloxi.

Brown also discussed the Laurel S-Curve project, a $27-million project awarded to Tanner Construction Company in Ellisville to reconstruct and realign Interstate 59 from 16th Avenue to 4th Avenue. The curve is too tight for interstate standards, and has been the site of numerous accidents.

“Not only will this provide realignment of the interstate, but it will free up some property for redevelopment,” Brown says.

Contact MBJ contributing writer Becky Gillette at 4becky@cox.net.


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