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Work on Interstate 55 between the I-20 interchange and the Byram exit was halted in January.

Third time may be charm — at least for first phase of I-55 project

By JACK WEATHERLY

The third time may do it, at least for the first phase of the widening of Interstate 55 between the I-20 interchange and Byram.

The contract for it has been awarded to James Construction Group LLC of Baton Rouge, with completion of the initial phase of the troubled project set for Dec. 23, according to the Mississippi Department of Transportation.

Long before that, northbound lanes and ramps should have been opened, Transportation Commission Chairman Dick Hall said on Friday.

The northbound off-ramp at Elton Road has a completion date of July 22, Hall said, adding that work is to commence Wednesday.

Next will be the opening of all other northbound ramps — Elton Road off-ramp, Daniel Lake  on-ramp, McDowell Road off-ramp and the loop ramp at McDowell to I-55 north — by Sept. 18.

The James bid of $23,285,679, about 2.67 percent over the state estimate, was accepted Tuesday, Hall said.  James’ bid wasn’t the lowest but it had “by far” the best completion schedule, 175 days, Hall said.

The priority is on catching up with the 7.5-mile project that began in the spring of 2013. So, as a motivator, penalties for missing benchmarks are “a little heavier,” he said.

Penalties for phase one will be $10,000 per ramp, per day, he said, and $25,000 per day for the “substantial completion” of phase one.

Of complaints from the citizenry of Byram, population 11,000, Hall said, “If I was them I’d be raising as much cane as they’re raising.

“It should have never happened. It shouldn’t have come to this, but we’re going to fix it.”

Work on the project was halted in January after a design flaw was discovered and a $1.7 million contract with the designer, Infrastructure Corp. of America, was terminated. The department has considered suing the designer, but Hall said Friday that nothing has been filed.

Hall said that the flaw was the absence of retaining walls, which were essential for keeping Yazoo clay, known for its instability, under control.

There was an excess of the clay because the original builder in the 1970s simply dumped it on the apron of the roadway instead of hauling it away. That was discovered as building the two outside lanes – to make it a six-lane stretch —  was begun.

The department awarded the first contract to James Construction  for $94 million.

The project was rebid on a design-build approach, meaning that a designer and a builder would work hand-in-hand.

Yet on April 24, the department rejected those bids, the lowest of which was $103.8 million from W.G. Yates & Son of Philadelphia, as exorbitant. James did not submit a bid on the design-build do-over.

So the project was rebid in the old method. And the department has changed its approach to soil borings, taking them much farther from the project.

The initial projected completion date for the entire project was late this year. Now target is winter 2016, said department spokesman Jarrod Ravencraft.

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