Dungan says he’s been told $10 million U.S. Hwy. 11 four-lane project delayed

Published 3:27 pm Wednesday, April 4, 2012

County Engineer Les Dungan told the Pearl River County board of supervisors at its meeting on Monday that Mississippi Department of Transportation officials had told him the $10-million project to four-lane and refurbish U.S. Highway 11 from East Hobolochitto Creek bridge to the entrance to Hide-A-Way Lake “has been delayed.”

Dungan’s remark seemed to indicate that MDOT has already made the decision, but he said there is a meeting set for Tuesday, April 10, at district headquarters in Hattiesburg where concerns will be aired out.

He did not say who will be in the meeting, but Supervisor Sandy Kane Smith said he wanted to go, and, if he couldn’t get in, he would stand outside the door. Dungan did not say for how long the delay would be. The discussion brought out that if it is not funded and constructed now, it could be years before it would be even considered again.

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There were audible moans when Dungan made what seemed to be just a matter-of-fact, off-hand remark during his routine presentation to the board. However, the news, because of major grid locks on U.S. Hwy. 11 during morning and evening rush hours in Picayune, got officials immediate attention.

Immediately, supervisors asked Dungan about the traffic signal that was planned for installation where Highland Commons Parkway will intersect with  U.S. Hwy. 11 North next to the new Highland Hospital, a new $50 million complex scheduled to be completed by mid-summer in North Picayune. Dungan said that would be a topic at Tuesday’s meeting.

A Picayune official who asked not to be identified said Picayune officials are very concerned. He said that dumping traffic onto U.S. Hwy. 11 at Commons Parkway, along with hospital traffic, would create, without the upgrade to 11, an “intolerable mess and grid lock.”

Smith said that if the project is delayed, officials could look for major traffic tie ups and even some serious accidents along that stretch of highway.

Dungan said MDOT officials told him that the department is taking the step because of “budget constraints.” Some supervisors are saying Picayune and other local officials here should contact legislators and Southern District Highway Commissioner Tom King about the matter and apply pressure.

Pearl River has two of the most powerful legislators in the State Legislature — Herb Frierson (R-Poplarville), chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, and Mark Formby (R-Picayune), chairman of the House Rules Committee.

King, who campaigned here on opening up communications between local officials and MDOT, and who won Pearl River County during last year’s November election, will get his chance to communicate, said the official who asked that his name not be used.

“This is a major decision they have made and it impacts us greatly. Picayune is growing and we need Hwy. 11 expanded and refurbished to handle our traffic loads,” the Picayune official told the Picayune Item.

Supervisors were also upset because they understood there was an agreement between the county and MDOT, that if MDOT would four-lane and refurbish U.S. Hwy. 11, the county would construct Highland Commons Parkway.

Everything seemed in order and everybody appeared happy in August, 2010, when MDOT held a public hearing on the project at the Margaret Reed Crosby Memorial Library. Several hundred residents attended and voiced their approval of the project and gave their ideas.

MDOT district pre-construction engineer Keith Steel said then the estimated cost of the project would be $10 million and would probably be put out for bids in January, 2013, and construction would probably begin in the Spring of 2013. Even survey crews got to work on the project.

Recently, something happened, and MDOT told Dungan they were delaying the project.

Plans presented at the public hearing revealed that the project would stretch from the north end of the East Hobolochitto Creek bridge to Lakeshore Drive, which is the entrance to Hide-A-Way Lake. The plans called for four 12-foot travel lanes, a 10-foot shoulder and a 16-foot raised grass medium.

Currently, the road consists of three lanes, one north, one south with a turning lane in the middle.

Right now, there can be major delays at the Mississippi Highway 43 North/U.S. Hwy. 11 intersection near McDonald’s during evening and morning rush hours. It is the most congested traffic area in the city and Pearl River County, and U.S. Hwy. 11 North will become even more clogged when Highland Hospital opens.

Traffic jams can stretch from the Miss. Hwy. 43/U.S. Hwy. 11 traffic signal on the northbound side back to the old Wards restaurant, and on the southbound side back to the K&T Texaco quick stop at the Richardson-Ozona-U.S. Hwy. 11 split.

Van Vincent, an MDOT environmental location engineer, said during the hearing in 2010, that a raised grass medium with turning lanes was selected for installation because “it is safer.” The plans called for reworking all the intersections connecting with U.S. Hwy. 11 in the project area.

It has been almost 60 years since any major reworking on U.S. Hwy. 11 through the Roseland Park area has been undertaken by the state. In the early 1950s, when Roseland Park was considered Rural Route 2, the highway department relocated U.S. Hwy. 11 away from what is now Circle Drive to its current route into North Picayune and constructed the new bridge across East Hobolochitto Creek.