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Getting it straight

Last touches on project put ‘S-Curve’ in rearview mirror

Not long ago, the word “S-Curve” struck fear in the hearts of residents of Jones County and those traveling Interstate 59 in Laurel. The snaky section of the interstate gained a reputation as one of the most terrifying stretches of roadway for motorists in the state. On nice days, it was spooky. At night or during inclement weather, it was a true white-knuckle experience.

“The infamous I-59 S-Curve has seen many lives lost and numerous injuries over the past 50 years,” said Susan Vincent, former mayor of Laurel who spent 12 years working on the project.

“MDOT’s number one priority is to provide a safe transportation system. Upgrading and making improvements to the I-59 S-Curve has been one of our major endeavors,” said Transportation Commissioner Wayne Brown.

Fortunately, the S-Curve, which required motorists to slow to 40 miles per hour and had one of the highest accident rates of any road in Mississippi, is almost totally in drivers’ rearview mirror. The award-winning project, which has taken five years to complete, is now in its finishing phase.

In December 2010, the Mississippi Department of Transportation announced the beginning of the final phase by Tanner Construction of Ellisville. Located just north of the old S-Curve, the work encompasses two miles of roadway of I-59 from Fourth Avenue to Chantilly Street.

Once crews finished the deck slab and concrete handrail on bridges spanning Fourth Avenue, Masonite Road, Walker’s Avenue and U.S. 15/Cook Avenue, they began along the U.S. 84 section of the project, which involved the substructure work. Work involved correcting the slopes between the roadways to required specifications, lane widening as well as new guardrails and retaining walls.

This phase is expected to be completed this July.

For the traveling public, however, this is a mere nuisance. In September 2009, MDOT held a ceremony celebrating the straightening of the curve. In conjunction with the event was a dedication of the I-59 bridge between Beacon Street and Fourth Avenue in memory of David R. Brown, the original project engineer on the S-Curve project.

“Living in Laurel with his family, David knew firsthand the necessity and value of this project and deeply committed not only to this project but to all projects in this area,” Brown said.

The overall project, awarded to Tanner in July 2006 at a total original cost of approximately $32 million, was a true team effort, in one aspect uniquely so. To begin construction, which encompassed the straightening the 3,700 feet of I-59 from 16th Avenue to 4th Avenue, the City of Laurel utilized MDOT’s Highway Enhancement through Local Partnerships Program (H.E.L.P.) to help fund the work.

During reconstruction of the interstate, MDOT entered into a partnership with Mystic Seaport Museum, a maritime museum, to restore the Charles W. Morgan vessel. The reconstruction of the interstate necessitated the removal of a number of live oak trees. The live oak trees were then donated by MDOT for the restoration of the vessel. The wood was used to rebuild part of the frame, backbone, stern and stem posts of the vessel.

The uniqueness of the project was recognized by many well outside of Laurel and Mississippi. In August 2010, MDOT was honored with the American Association of State and Highway Officials’ 2010 America’s Transportation Award. The award was presented for completing the S-Curve project under budget. The city floated a $32-million bond issue in 2006 to fund the project. The final cost was approximately $26 million, leaving a $6-million bond surplus.

After winning the regional award, the project was named a finalist for a national People’s Choice Award, which is also sponsored by AASHTO.

The project’s designer, Garver, LLC, also earned some new hardware. The Mississippi chapter of the American Council of Engineering Companies awarded Garver its Honor Award for the firm’s work.

In order to cut costs, it was determined that the 1,980-foot elevated bridge — the brainchild of Garver — would be less expensive to construct if the structural steel members were replaced with pre-stressed concrete. It was estimated that the new, Garver-designed bridge saved $10 million.

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