Indiana Avenue intersection at center of MDOT planning

Published 12:00 am Friday, April 23, 2010

How to redesign the Interstate 20 interchange at Indiana Avenue has emerged as a key component in the Mississippi Department of Transportation’s proposed highway makeover through Vicksburg, Central District Commissioner Dick Hall said Thursday.

The highway, ramps and frontage roads, which date to the 1960s, have been out of compliance with federal standards for many years. A complete reconstruction could cost $1 billion, Hall said, and while no timetable can be set, design ideas are in process.

He told members of the Vicksburg Rotary Club the plans for the Indiana interchange, marked by antiquated lane design and inconsistent turn-signals, could be available until at least June when an environmental review wraps up and another public hearing is held.

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More public comments than normal flowed into MDOT’s offices following a public hearing in November — enough to focus the effort’s attention on the west end of the interstate’s heaviest portion of daily vehicle traffic.

“You had a lot comments,” Hall said. “We took those comments back with us and we’re in the process of redoing some of the alternatives that we presented — particularly making major changes at the Indiana Avenue interchange.” Drivers exiting the interstate from either direction onto Indiana face a mishmash of traffic and misaligned turn lanes.

In the overall plan, the highway would be widened to six lanes between the Washington Street exit and the U.S. 61 North exit. Exits and overpasses between are Halls Ferry Road, Indiana, Wisconsin Avenue and Clay Street.

Traffic on the frontage roads will be turned one way during major construction — but returned to two-way traffic under one alternative. The other leaves traffic in one direction much like Interstate 55 in Jackson, with improved ramps to the main highway and turnaround lanes.

Related work to build an overpass over rail tracks to connect South Frontage Road and East Clay Street remains a separate project on paper, despite concepts of a new crossing appearing on maps shown to the public at the November hearing.

Both are likely to require more special appropriations from Congress — a practice Hall defended during a status rundown of several local road and bridge improvement projects.

“I don’t know why the media and others get on our congressional delegation about earmarks,” said Hall, a Republican and former state senator from Jackson who is a Vicksburg native. “That’s what they’re up there for… think about it — the Constitution of the United States gives the Congress the authority and the responsibility to appropriate monies. If I was a congressman, I’d want some say as to how that money is spent. And if I had a project back home that was worthy, I’d try to get the money and fix it.”

State funding for replacing the bridge at Washington and Clark streets, which the City of Vicksburg is hoping can be replaced using $3.7 million in redirected bond money from 2006 for recreation and paving and $4 million in special appropriation to replenish the bonds, could come from parts of a $300 million bond issue signed last week by Gov. Haley Barbour for transportation projects.

“That bridge is kind of weird,” Hall said. “It’s not on our system; it’s not on the federal system. It’s having a hard time finding a pot of money to fix it.”

Senate Bill 3181, authored by state Sen. Tom King, R-Petal and signed last week by Gov. Haley Barbour, contains $90 million to finance highways leading to the proposed Toyota plant in northeast Mississippi. It also funds improvements to U.S. 49 near Camp Shelby. Dirt could move on a road-topped rail tunnel in May if a construction contract is in place, though Hall said he’ll continue to work with state lawmakers to find ways to direct some of the $20 million included in the state-issued bonds eyed for local bridges.

Among other active projects, Hall said a ninth alternative is being considered to widen sections of U.S. 61 South in Port Gibson. Eight others have been considered in disputes between MDOT and local and state historic preservationists. A hydraulic study involving the net rise of water in Bayou Pierre is under way, he said.

Connecting U.S. 61 North in Vicksburg to the Port of Vicksburg is estimated at $9 million and will involve right of way negotiations through at least 2012, according to the current STIP.

MDOT has had several recent projects in the area, including resurfacing and other work on the city’s perimeter, resurfacing U.S. 61 North from I-20 to Blakely and a new bridge over the Yazoo River at Redwood. Under way is resurfacing U.S. 61 South from I-20 to the Yokena area.

Contact Danny Barrett Jr. at