Mississippi DOT Expands State Route 15 to Improve Traffic Flow
Reshaping State Route 25: Mississippi DOT Tackles Terrain Challenges to Widen Eight Miles of Highway in Pontotoc County
When one thinks of long distances, eight miles probably does not come to mind. However, eight miles does make for a lengthy construction project. Eight miles of State Route 15 in Pontotoc County, Mississippi, is being expanded from two lanes to four. Because of the length of the project, there are a few different terrains and challenges that occur along the route.
The town of Ecru is driving the growing traffic along SR 15. And why is a town with a population of just under 900, according to the 2010 census, causing the Mississippi Department of Transportation (MDOT) to engage in a major construction project? Ecru, which is situated in northeastern Mississippi, is home to the largest upholstered furniture plant in the world, which manufactures Ashley Furniture.
“They are one of the largest employers in the state,” says Joey Hitt, a veteran MDOT employee who is serving as a Project Engineer for the expansion and is a resident of the area. “There are trucks coming into the facility all the time with materials and leaving with finished projects.”
In addition to the traffic associated with Ashley Furniture, there is significant car traffic. SR 15 serves as a connector to other routes such as I-22 and 278.
Improvements for Traffic and the Community
An earlier study was completed that showed traffic was projected to grow on the route by more than 50 percent between 2009 and 2029. The goal of the project is to improve traffic flow and safety. Hence, the land expansion.
Other components will also play a role in the mission. There will be new traffic signals that will have radar detection based on traffic, wider shoulders for farmers to use to transport their agricultural equipment, and turning lanes.
The eight miles of SR 15 passes a local high school. In the vicinity of the high school, the flashers or sign warnings will be improved. The DOT hopes this will inspire drivers to use caution. Hitt adds, “When kids are driving, safety is always an issue.”
Another stop along the route is Tanglefoot Trail. The trail spans over 40 miles and is the state’s longest Rails to Trails conversion. The route goes from New Albany to Houston, Mississippi and includes the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains, fields, forests, meadows, and wetlands. According to Hitt, the part of the trail near the project has many walkers and bikers.
There’s a bridge with a 20-foot clearance over the trail that is being replaced. Two lanes are being added to the existing roadway – which is being lowered to a similar grade as the new lanes – and the walking trail will be underneath.
The Lappatubby Creek Bridge, second bridge that is on the south end of the project, is being replaced. Further bridge work involves constructing some new bridges over creeks, rebuilding two bridges, and repair of another one.
Working Around Homes and Businesses
There are some houses that are aligned close to the route. They were purchased as part of right-of-way in order to allow room for the expansion. Additional homes are further back from the roadway and therefore they can remain.
Leaving the houses caused challenges for Hitt and the team. “We worked in front of people’s homes and businesses. People are coming in an out regularly, and we didn’t want to inconvenience them.” That meant allowing traffic to move and enabling everyone to get in and out of their house each day as much as possible. It also means keeping people informed.
The houses that remained were on hills, and some had to be cut. MDOT’s goal was to keep the house and the road on the same elevation.
A survey of the area was done primarily on a flyover. MDOT had to re-address and correct some grades. One thing MDOT came to realize is that they had to perform a good deal of rock excavation on the hill. This caused a slight delay since they could not drill before the project as people were still in their homes and had yet to relocate due to right-of-way.
Moving of the dirt provided a surprise to Hitt and his team. Some of the dirt that was to be moved was a high volume change soil. When the high-volume change dirt gets wet and ultimately dries, it’s volume changes drastically (more than 50 percent). “We didn’t realize how much of it there was,” says Hitt. The dirt can’t be used in the construction of the road because it can lead to heaving. Instead, “We’re going to use it in the bottom of areas where there are large fills and remove some as excess,” says Hitt.
The total cost of the project is $32.5 million with the state on the hook for 20 percent, and the federal government footing the remainder. The project is being done in phases. Phase one is the dirt work and bridges, which is budgeted for $11 million. Phase two consists of redoing existing lanes and paving them for $21.5 million. “We are on budget,” says Hitt. “We’re always looking for ways to save money and are ready to make minor changes, but things do pop up that cost a bit more.”
Phase one began in March of 2016 and was completed in October of 2017. Phase two began in the summer of 2018 and is expected to be complete by summer 2020. MDOT computed the amount of working days the project should take based upon the nature of and quantities of work. As part of the contract, the general contractor has that amount of working days to complete the project. “It’s not a drop- dead date but is based on actual working days available even if they don’t work but could have,” says Hitt.
Upon completion, commuters who use SR 15 in Pontotoc County, Mississippi, will be able to navigate the diverse area more quickly and safely. Eight miles will seem even shorter.