607 to be four-laned

Published 1:32 pm Wednesday, June 17, 2009

The Mississippi Department of Transportation held a public hearing Monday night to gather public comment on a project that will give State Route 607 four lanes.

Adding the two additional lanes will be in preparation of using the state highway as another route for Mississippi coastal residents to evacuate. The road leads to Interstate 59, a main evacuation route for those fleeing hurricanes.

The work will be conducted in one of two ways, with an eastern or western easement acquisition inside the buffer zone. Inside the boundaries of Pearl River County, MDOT will attempt to keep their work within the existing right of way.

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Evacuating more people towards I- 59 appears as though it might cause more congestion with the number of Louisiana residents expected to use the interstate to evacuate. MDOT engineer Steve Twedt said utilizing contraflow is, and has always been, a last ditch effort to evacuate people in preparation of a major hurricane. However, if Stennis Space Center, through which 607 passes, decides to allow coastal residents to evacuate through the normally closed federal facility, evacuees could continue on to U.S. 11 rather than getting onto I-59, Twedt said. Twedt did say, though, that the objective will be to keep U.S. 11 open for emergency traffic.

Twedt said there is expected to be some traffic congestion but there will be efforts to reduce it. A recent announcement stated contraflow will merge about 30 miles north of last year’s merge point of Poplarville. The merge will now take place at mile marker 55. Twedt expects any instances of congestion in Pearl River County to be reduced with the merge relocation. Local law enforcement will man the traffic conditions with assistance from MDOT law enforcement and the Mississippi Highway Patrol.

Funding for the project will involve a combination of federal, highway trust fund and grant funds, possibly from the Mississippi Development Authority, Twedt said. MDOT District Engineer Red Stringfellow, said work will be conducted from Saturn Drive inside Stennis Space Center all the way to I-59. MDOT plans to conduct the road work from the intersection of Texas Flat Road to the interstate. Stennis will handle the rest. If, for some reason, Stennis runs out of funds to complete its end then MDOT has a back up plan to pave the road from Stennis’ north gate to the interstate.

MDOT Location Engineer Rhea Vincent said there are two alternative areas of right of way acquisition, either eastern or western. Either plan involves acquiring the needed land to add the extra lanes and bridges to either the western or eastern side of 607. Vincent said that currently the western plan is the preferred alternative, since it involves building fewer bridges and would be cheaper. The eastern plan involves more environmental concerns and would make the project more expensive. A 45- to 60-day study will be conducted to find out which alternative will be used.

The work also will involve adding additional lanes to the on and off ramps on the north bound lane of I-59 at Exit 2. Vincent said the additional lanes will accommodate more vehicles during evacuation periods.

One home is expected to have to be purchased from the owner in the right of way acquisition and a second home may or may not be affected. Both houses sit at the intersection of Asa McQueen and 607.

Some residents who live along 607 attended the hearing to gather information about the work and how it might affect them. Charles and Marilyn Roberson live in one of the last homes along 607 before entering the buffer zone from the interstate.

Marilyn Roberson said she thinks the work will be good for the people who work out at Stennis.

“It’s not a big difference ’cause it will be so much better for everybody concerned,” Marilyn Roberson said.

Warren and Monica Lotz also live in the area, but are concerned about the effect the work will have on their home. Warren Lotz said he is concerned about the close proximity of the road to his home and the increased number of speeders the new road might bring. He also is concerned about whether he will be able to sell his house after the work is complete.