Central District Transportation Commissioner Willie Simmons says relieving congestion in the Jackson metro area is vital and several projects, both under way and proposed, will help.
The two big projects — the $253 million expansion and overhaul of 7.5 miles of U.S. Highway 49 through Rankin County and the $42 million replacement of the bridges at the junction of Interstates 20 and 55 in Jackson — are both scheduled for completion in the summer of 2022.
The former state senator and Senate Transportation Committee chairman said the U.S. 49 project has been plagued by drainage-related issues caused by excessive rainfall. According to the National Weather Service, 2020 was the fourth-wettest year on record in the Jackson area with 73.62 inches of rain. This forced the contractor, Yates Construction and the Mississippi Department of Transportation to make crucial decisions about the project.
“We had an excessive amount of rainfall that created a drainage problem in that area and it turned the soil into a situation where we could not manage it and build on top of it in the manner in which we normally do,” Simmons said. “We (Mississippi Department of Transportation, Yates, Baker Engineering and the federal government) had some choices we had to make on the drainage. Do we go wider and deeper? It would create a serious problem for the businesses up and down that stretch.”
Simmons said the normal sand and rock was omitted from the plans and a special kind of stone was used which enables the drainage system but comes at a tremendous added cost and delays.
The project is now 85 percent fully funded, Simmons said.
“Just looking at the traffic flow and the new lanes that have been constructed, it’s going to be an improvement and eliminate a lot of the traffic jams going into Jackson and into the Stack now,” Simmons said.
Long-term projects that the three-member MDOT Commission are contemplating include a four-lane west corridor that would connect Interstate 55 at Crystal Springs with Interstate 20 near Vicksburg using State Route 27 and added lanes to both Interstates 20 and 55.
“We have a lot of traffic that comes through the city of Jackson,” Simmons said. “On top of that, you have the Gulf Coast traffic on 49 and the Delta traffic on 61. When you put that together in the capitol city, you have a growth and a capacity problem.”
According to MDOT’s traffic count statistics, the numbers illustrate Simmons’ point. Interstate 20 at Pearl has seen daily traffic counts increase from 61,000 vehicles per day in 2010 to 77,000 in 2019, a gain of 26 percent. Traffic on U.S. 49 in Richland has increased 18.6 percent from 43,000 in 2010 to 51,000 vehicles per day in 2019.
Interstate 20 west of Jackson has seen traffic increase by 18.1 percent from 44,000 vehicles per day in 2010 to 52,000 as of 2019.
Interstate 55 south of Jackson has had a smaller increase, going from 64,000 vehicles per day in 2010 to 70,000 in 2019, an increase of 9.4 percent.