By CALLIE DANIELS BRYANT
After five years Mississippi Department of Transportation is ready to complete the widening of I-55 between Jackson and Byram by next August.
MDOT had important reasons for taking on the 7.5 mile project by adding two more lanes to the four-lane road, as explained by its District Five Engineer, Brian Ratliff.
“Well, there were two things that made us decide to widen and reconstruct a roadway between Byram and McDowell Road. One, of course, was the capacity issue,” Ratliffe said. “It’s a very busy stretch of highway (and) interstate system but we also needed to be able to do a complete reconstruction because the road got in such a bad shape we couldn’t maintain the potholes, the cracks in the pavement. Also we tried to release some traffic congestion and improve our infrastructure that way.”
Byram Mayor Richard White, agrees the widening will help with the traffic issues.
“The traffic is tremendous,” said White, “served on the VFD (Volunteer Fire Department) for 20 years, the extra lanes will make a big difference in transportation to Jackson and here in Mississippi. I think it’s going to be a great situation for everybody. I think it should be done years ago.”
After the project began in 2013 it hit a couple snags. MDOT halted the project in January 2015 due to the Yazoo clay that was dumped roadside by a contractor of the original four-lane intersection in 1970s. MDOT then rebid the project to a new contractor due to finding design flaws of retaining walls between McDowell Road exit at the I-20 interchange to the Siwell Road exit at Byram.
MDOT granted a new contract to its lowest bidder at $85 million: Yates Construction Co..
This project has three phases, and the second is nearly complete.
Ratliff said, “The first phase was to complete the construction of the median section and the second phase was to complete the southbound lane of the project. We’re getting to the end of Phase Two. Once we get through building the southbound lane, we’ll have to split traffic and do some tie-ins with the center median wall that we had to leave out at the exit and the on-ramp to utilize while we were working. We’re about to finish Phase Two and then go to Phase Three at the end of the year.”
The completion date was Aug. 8, but MDOT gave the contractor a 13-day extension due to hurricane impacts, Ratliff said.
“Right now, we’re still in the same completion date of the month of August even with a rainy summer and hurricane issues,” he said.
“The I-55 South Expansion project will provided much needed relief to a very heavily traveled corridor in the Jackson metro area,” Transportation Commissioner Dick Hall said recently. . “This project will reduce travel times and increase efficiency throughout the corridor.”
In the meantime, the traffic has been a challenge for daily commuters. Mayor White believes this problem is speed-related, though.
“I believe if everyone would go between 50 to 60 miles per hour the accidents wouldn’t have happened,” White said. “I’m an older person –a senior citizen so I believe slower speed save lives. People should realize this isn’t about cars or trucks but rather people driving. I think if everyone would slow down in tight places like this, but we have had a couple accidents that caused deaths because someone’s going too fast or not paying attention. I get police reports, and I don’t have to ask when someone runs into back of one’s car they were not paying attention or keeping their mind on the road.”
Ratliff echoed Mayor White on the speeding issue, saying that the limit was lowered to 50 miles per hour.
“We have a lot of issues with speeding that the motorists are going down there,” Ratliff said. “We’ve got speed limit lowered to 50 miles and if everybody would obey the limit we’d see a decrease in a lot of the action out there and it’d be safer for the workers and the public as well.”