By JACK WEATHERLY
Work has begun on the second phase of the widening of Interstate 55 between I-20 and Byram.
The Mississippi Department of Transportation projects the completion date in late summer 2018 – more than three and one-half years beyond the initial expected completion target.
While the protracted undertaking has caused headaches for motorists, “six lanes will be a great deal for all of us,” said Richard White, mayor of Byram, population 11,000.
The total cost of adding two lanes and reworking ramps on the 7.5-mile project will have reached about $108 million, compared with the original cost estimate of $94 million.
Much of the delay was because of an overabundance of Yazoo clay, a particularly unstable soil. Work was halted in January 2015 when the problem was discovered. It was attributed to the dumping of the clay on the road apron during original construction in the 1970s.
Also, the agency said there was a mistake in the design of the retaining walls in the project between the southbound McDowell Road exit at the I-20 interchange to the Siwell Road exit at Byram.
To lessen the chances of another design mistake, the agency decided to rebid the project by using the design-build process, which puts design and construction under one contract.
But those bids came in way over projected costs and were rejected.
Consequently, the agency returned to the traditional approach. James Construction of Baton Rouge, which had won the initial bid process, reentered the picture and submitted a winning $23.3 million first-phase bid.
And on April 13, Commissioner Dick Hall said in a release that James Construction had met all deadlines “and we are ready to begin the final leg of this important project to improve the safety and mobility of the traveling public.”
Yates Construction of Philadelphia, which, according to Hall, submitted the lowest bid, $85 million, roughly 5 percent under the state’s estimate, began work on April 15.
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