Rain, Bad Soil Could Extend U.S. 51 Project Timeline

Fri March 04, 2005 - Southeast Edition
Maybelle G. Cagle

Construction crews are working to complete improvements to a five-mile stretch of U.S. Highway 51 between Madison and Ridgeland, MS, although they may miss the completion date originally set for June.

APAC-Mississippi Inc. was awarded the contract for $14 million in March 2003 and work began in June 2003.

The project begins south of the Natchez Trace Parkway and continues through the Madison city limits.

Approximately 19,000 cars travel through the site of the project daily, according to statistics provided by the Mississippi Department of Transportation (MDOT).

Albert Saad, an MDOT engineer, said wet weather and unfavorable soil have been factors in the project falling behind schedule.

The state initiated the widening/reconstruction project to alleviate traffic congestion along the U.S. 51 corridor by improving the traffic flow through Ridgeland and Madison in the Jackson metro area.

Plans call for the roadway to be widened to four through lanes with a center turn lane. Numerous intersections are being reconstructed. Traffic signals are being added at certain intersection as well as left and right turn lanes to make the intersections operate more efficiently.

Traffic cameras also will be added at various locations along the project and monitored remotely by MDOT’s Traffic Engineering Division. This will enable MDOT to adjust signal timing to maintain a constant and efficient flow of traffic through these signalized intersections when the project is completed.

The drainage system along the route must also be reconstructed since the five lane section will provide curb and gutter with curb inlets.

MDOT Spokeswoman Amy Land said the agency’s traffic engineering division is working to put cameras at all major construction projects and permanently at all major intersections/roadways across the state.

“This is just something that is a time consuming process and depends upon funding. We currently have several cameras over the Jackson metro area as well as the Gulf Coast. Our ultimate goal would be to go statewide with cameras, but that is not anytime soon,” she added.

The project has had its challenges.

“Their biggest challenge is traffic and working in such small areas. They have driveways and entrances to businesses every 50 feet, so it is hard for dozers and other equipment to get in these small spaces, especially with the high volume of traffic in the area,” said Brian Ratliff, an MDOT engineer also working on the project.

Shane Ormon, a Clinton, MS, contractor is building the Trace Station shopping center in Ridgeland, MS, which is within the 5 mi. of the project. So far, he said, his construction company has been accessing the shopping site on Jackson Street, which adjoins the project.

“The center is getting close to opening and I can see how that might be a problem, if the work isn’t finished on Highway 51,” added Ormon.

Motorists may expect temporary lane closures during off-peak hours, nights or weekends. To minimize inconvenience, specific provisions have been included in the contract to prevent the use of temporary lane closures during morning and evening rush hours to maintain a steady flow of traffic and minimize delays. Rush hours are considered to be from 6:30 to 8:30 a.m. and 3:30 to 6:30 p.m.

At least 10 to 25 workers are on site working from 6:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily.

“Right now, we are working when we can work,” said Terry May, area manager, APAC.

May said the rain and utilities have caused problems.

“We found a few of the utilities hadn’t been moved,” he added.

Concrete barriers and plenty of orange barrels are being used as traffic safety measures.

“Traffic is a lot worse than we had anticipated,” said May.

The company has a number of pieces of heavy equipment at the site. They include John Deere and Caterpillar equipment such as trackhoes and backhoes.

According to May, the project has eight sub-contractors. They include American Field Service Corp., a Madison, MS, firm, which is doing concrete work.

Saad said all of the intersections being reconstructed are on the east and west sides of the project. One traffic signal, he added, was installed at Cobble Stone Drive and one more may be added at the County Barn Road relocation.

“The rest of the existing signals will be improved to handle the traffic,” noted Saad.

The Mississippi division of APAC operates throughout the state and in central Tennessee. Its Mississippi branch offices are in Jackson, Meridian, Greenville, Columbia, Vicksburg, Columbus and Tupelo. It also has an office in Crump, TN. The APAC group of companies are among the largest transportation construction contractors in the United States.