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I-20 rehab moved up, Dick Hall says in city

[8/12/04]A rosier forecast for highways was presented in Vicksburg Wednesday by Central District Transportation Commissioner Dick Hall.

In May, Hall said a $10 million overlay of Interstate 20 scheduled for 2005 had been put on hold. Wednesday, he told the Vicksburg Lions Club the project has been moved up to this year.

Hall, a former state senator from Jackson, had blasted his former colleagues for swiping road money to help balance the state’s budget and predicted 10,000 construction jobs would be lost.

Wednesday, however, he said the I-20 work and replacing the U.S. 61 bridge over the Yazoo River starting in 2005 would proceed.

“In May we were still in the aftershock,” Hall explained. The reaction then was to put everything on hold.

Since then, he said, the department has re-evaluated prorities and reshuffled to restore absolutely urgent projects to the schedule and move less urgent ones down the list.

Hall said the Mississippi Department of Transportation’s interstate rating committee completed a statewide review of all Mississippi’s interstates as part of that process and assigned the section of I-20 from the Mississippi River Bridge to about six miles east the No. 1 priority for rehabilitation. Almost annually, the road has been patched, but remains uneven and pocked by potholes.

“This rehabilitation will include repaving the entire stretch, including the frontage roads, replacing all guard rails, removing fences and improving all the asthetics,” Hall said.

The original schedule called for the department to let the contract in October of 2005, Hall said. The contract will now be let in September. Still some years away is the makeover engineers say the road and on- and off-ramps need.

“The estimated cost is $10.5 million,” he said. “This … is simply an expensive Band Aid, major surgery is needed.

Work leading to that major surgery has already begun, Hall said. A consulting firm has determined I-20 from the Mississippi River Bridge to the intersection with U.S. 61 North needs to be six lanes to provide an acceptable level of service. The next steps are environmental studies, public hearings and purchase of right of way.

The present schedule calls for work to begin in fiscal year 2008, but he warned that may be overly optimistic. He promised the work will begin within the next 10 years.

He also said the most recent cost estimate is $140 million but is four years old, meaning the actual cost will likely be more.

Hall mentioned two other projects of local interest extension of the South Frontage Road and reconstruction of the Flowers interchange.

“Congress has earmarked $2.5 million for the frontage road and a request for proposals has been issued for engineering services to do an environmental study,” Hall said.

Rebuilding the Flowers interchange is on the MDOT schedule for July 2006.

Hall said there are several local projects that are not on the interstate.

The contract for a new Yazoo River Bridge at Redwood will be let in early 2005. The cost is estimated at $30 million and it will take three years to build.

The department is performing some geotechnical studies on an old sanitary landfill on a proposed route for a new road from U.S. 61 North to the E.W. Haining Industrial Center. When complete in December, the study should tell MDOT if they can use that route or have to find another.

Surveying is being done to reconstruct U.S. 61 South from Warrenton Road to Vicksburg Municipal Airport. Design work is yet to be done and money will not be available until 2007.

Bids for a signal light at Dana Road and U.S. 61 South came in too high and new bids will be taken in two weeks.

Reconstruction of Mississippi 27 from the Kansas City Southern tracks to U.S. 80 is scheduled for March 2007.

The department has $1 million set aside to begin the study of four-laning Mississippi 22 from Edwards to Canton.