Traffic counts impel new I-59/ Gandy exchange

By HASKEL BURNS,

According to numbers from the Mississippi Department of Transportation, the exit ramp from Interstate 59 to the Evelyn Gandy Parkway sees approximately 5,800 vehicles per day, while the opposite ramp coming from Petal to Hattiesburg gets about 6,400 vehicles per day.

High traffic counts like that – in addition to another 15,000 vehicles daily just about 2,000 feet north on the Evelyn Gandy Parkway – have necessitated an upcoming $24 million MDOT project that will entail new interchanges connecting the interstate and parkway.

“It’s definitely going to help alleviate a lot of the traffic congestion from people entering and exiting the ramp at Highway 42 and I-59,” MDOT project engineer Mason Key said. “I can’t say for sure that there have been (a certain) number of accidents there, and that this will eliminate all of the accidents, but it will definitely improve safety.”

The project, which is expected to begin in April and will take approximately two years to complete, will feature new entrance and exit ramps leading to and from the heavily-traveled roadways. Two new frontage roads also will be constructed: one on the east side of Interstate 59 that will connect Mississippi 42 to River Road, and another that will connect Eatonville and Braswell roads on the west side of the interstate.

Key said the additional roadwork will not only help alleviate traffic at the two major exits, but also in areas in the surrounding communities, which also see high daily traffic counts.

“Just south of the Bouie River on 59, the traffic count there is 40,000 cars per day,” he said. “Not all that is coming from Petal – that’s traffic going north and south on 59, but that’s in between (highways) 49 and 42.

“Just south of the Monroe Road exit, which is north of this interchange but before you get to the next one, the traffic count is 29,000 per day.”

The current interchanges will remain open until the new ones are complete.

“Once we get certain phases of the project complete – whether it be the exit ramp or the entrance ramp – we will open those to the traffic, and close the existing interchange,” Key said. 

The $24 million for the project will come from a combination of state and federal funds.

“I don’t know the exact numbers,” Key said. “Probably the majority is federal, but there is some state funding in it.”