Hattiesburg is well on the way to solving its longtime issue with traffic in downtown with the help of a $13.2 million federal BUILD grant that will support the construction of an overpass over the western portion of Hall Avenue that will connect with West Pine Street.
The grant, which was announced on Sept. 10 by Sens. Roger Wicker and Cindy Hyde-Smith – along with Rep. Steven Palazzo – comes from the U.S. Department of Transportation.
“In 1912, a local community leader stated, ‘It is the Hattiesburg spirit to go after things and to get them – especially large things,’” Mayor Toby Barker said. “Today – after two years of grant applications, planning meetings with our congressional delegation and a lot of Hattiesburg spirit – resulted in a phone call that will literally change the course of transportation in and around downtown Hattiesburg. Today is a great day for our city and our residents, but more importantly, it solidifies an even better, more prosperous Hattiesburg for tomorrow.”
The grant is part of $16.02 million in federal grant money that has been awarded for road improvements in Hattiesburg and the Jackson metro area. Approximately $2.8 million of those funds are going to support the planning phase for relocating the Bob Anthony Parkway that carries traffic from Madison and Rankin counties across the Barnett Reservoir spillway.
“These BUILD grant awards are fantastic news for the residents of Hattiesburg and the Jackson metro area,” Wicker said. “With this round of funding, Hattiesburg residents will soon see the completion of a faster, safer downtown route along Hall Avenue, and residents in central Mississippi can look forward to a new and improved route along the Barnett Reservoir. I expect the completed projects will have a tremendous impact on our state.”
The BUILD grant, which is the largest federal grant Hattiesburg has received in recent history, will be added to $5.39 million Consolidated Rail Infrastructure and Safety Improvement grant recently awarded to the city.
Those funds will also help with the construction of a second overpass over the Canadian National line on the east end of Hall Avenue.
“Investing in America’s infrastructure is critical to the success of our nation, which is why one of my top priorities as a member of the House Appropriations Committee is funding for BUILD grants,” Palazzo said. “This is the second year in a row that south Mississippi has received the highly competitive BUILD grant, and I know it will be a game-changer for residents and commuters in downtown Hattiesburg. I hope to see this funding pattern continue for our area, and wish to thank the president and Secretary (Elaine) Chao for their commitment to Mississippi.”
The Canadian National overpass project will begin in the East Jerusalem neighborhood at East Hardy and Gulfport streets and will turn west, passing over the rail line and ending at Bay Street and Hall Avenue.
The Hall Avenue section will consist of two lanes, a curb and gutter, a new drainage system and improvements to lighting and landscaping.
A traffic signal also will be installed at the intersection of East Hardy and Gulfport streets.
The design phase for the project is expected to last through the end of this year, with officials hoping to break ground by 2021. The overpass also is expected to provide easier access for emergency personnel to the Hattiesburg Public Safety Complex on Hall Avenue, which upon completion will serve as the new home to Hattiesburg Police Department and the city’s municipal court.
“While the railroads have been a source of economic progress for our city – and have helped create our identity as the Hub City – the location of these lines has caused unique problems for Hattiesburg,” Barker said during a news conference in early March. “There are 22 rail crossings in and around downtown Hattiesburg.
“None of those are grade-separated, which basically means there’s no other route to take that’s above or below the rail line, plus there are no alternatives to take when a route is blocked. Unfortunately, as our downtown continues to grow, and our city continues to see development in every neighborhood, the amount of train delays at crossings poses several concerns people often take to Facebook to share.”
Along with the East Jerusalem overpass, Barker has identified three other distinct areas in Hattiesburg with an abundance of trains that cause headaches for motorists: the Canadian National line in the Mobile-Bouie neighborhood and two Norfolk Southern lines in downtown and near Scooba Street.