Public meeting for Ridge Road project this Thursday

Published 12:06 am Wednesday, January 21, 2009

In the near future, traveling to the John C. Stennis Space Center might get a little easier for area residents if the ambitious plans of the County Board of Supervisors to re-build Ridge Road connecting Mississippi Highways 43 and 607 meet public approval. For those interested in being involved in the decision-making process, a public meeting will be held Thursday at the Picayune High School auditorium starting at 5:30 p.m.

The long-sought after goal of rebuilding Ridge Road, which runs from the north side of Wal-Mart, connecting with Asa McQueen Road to Miss. 607 in Nicholson, has been lying dormant for a number of years. A portion of Ridge Road was closed several years ago when a bridge began to deteriorate and had to be dismantled.

Wes Roberts, a civil engineer intern for Pickering Environmental Consultants of Jackson, said that some small changes had been made to the original plans since they were first presented to board members last month, with one of the six alternative routes eliminated and two others modified.

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“There have been some slight changes,” said Roberts. “There have been some modifications for the alternative where it comes out behind Home Depot and alternative E has been eliminated.” Alternative E was a small connection between two of the possible options.

At last month’s County Board of Supervisors meeting, county administrator Adrian Lumpkin said that the re-construction of the road, no matter which of the options was decided upon, would be an economic plus for the area. “That would make us closer to Stennis than even Hancock County,” Lumpkin said. “We could see more of the less-security type traffic.” He said the area was prime for additional businesses to locate in the area. Already a handful of business and the VFW are located off of Ridge Road.

Board members questioned Pearl River County Engineer Les Dungan about land acquisitions if the decision to build an entirely new route was chosen. After cautioning board members that the plans were only preliminary at this stage, Dungan said a number of issues would still have to be addressed such as right of way acquisitions, wetland reports and possible eminent domain issues. “It is a county sponsored project and it will be up to the county to acquire the land,” Dungan said last month, adding that there could be some property, if the monetary offer was not accepted, that might have to be acquired through eminent domain.

Curt Craig, principal owner of Pickering, told the supervisors that the public’s input was crucial to the decision making process. “The big part is that we need the public input,” he said. At Thursday night’s public hearing, the brochure with the various route options should be available to the public, he said. “Once we start getting comments back from the local people we will have a better idea of which option is best,” Craig said.

As for passing through the Stennis buffer zone, Roberts said that in the talks the firm has had with officials at NASA, he did not foresee that to be an issue. “We met with NASA a year ago and they said they did not have a problem working with us,” Roberts said. “And we are working with NASA now. They are anxious to see this project done because it would allow them closer access to the airport.”

The Picayune Airport Commission, an all-volunteer organization, also is interested in seeing Ridge Road re-built. Commission member Mike Fitzwilliams met with county supervisors last month to let them know that the viability of the airport depended on the road being improved. Pointing out that the road was a challenge to travel in its present condition, Fitzwilliams said trying to drive on it during or after a rainstorm was a test of driving skills and faith.

“The attractiveness and utilitarian use of that road is pretty poor right now,” said Fitzwilliams, explaining that one had to drive down the middle of the road to avoid the large puddles following a storm and pray that another vehicle was not coming from the opposite direction.

Board members agreed that something needed to be done and they were doing what they could to see it through.

According to the engineering draft of the possible routes the Ridge Road improvements could take, there are two entry options from Miss. 43. One of those would be to use the already-busy existing Wal-Mart entrance, while the second option is a little further south of Wal-Mart. Dungan reminded board members last month that if they wanted public support for the project, they really needed to consider the entrance that was not connected to Wal-Mart. “The challenge is the Wal-Mart entrance,” Dungan said.

Roberts said his firm did not have a cost estimate as of Monday, but hoped to have that finalized by Thursday’s night meeting. “We do not have an estimate of that number,” he said. “We are presently in the process of trying to get that together for the meeting.”

The open forum public meeting will be held Thursday, January 22, from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. in the Picayune High School auditorium on Goodyear Boulevard.