Officials acquiring land for overpass

By HASKEL BURNS,

As the first step in easing traffic congestion associated with train lines in Hattiesburg, officials are looking into acquiring several parcels of land required to complete a two-lane overpass that would reach over the Canadian National line in the East Jerusalem neighborhood.

Hattiesburg City Council members recently voted to approve an engagement letter with attorney Jack Denton to provide legal services for the project, which, when completed, would connect Hall Avenue to East Hardy Street along Gulfport Street.

“There are 18 properties that we will have to acquire some right-of-way for,” Mayor Toby Barker said. “Most of those are very small pieces of those properties, but there is a great deal of work that goes into checking the title and making sure everything is recorded properly, and that’s why we’re bringing in Jack Denton.”

According to a letter from Denton to council members, Denton will review the title examinations, the surveys, and the appraisals that have been done for the properties before coordinating with City Attorney Randy Pope to secure the necessary deeds to acquire the parcels. Denton has agreed to work on a “per parcel” basis, with a fee of $1,800 per unimproved parcel and $2,500 per improved parcel.

If Denton is not able to acquire any parcel through deed within 90 days from the date he receives each file, he will advise Pope, who can then choose to file an eminent domain action to acquire a specific parcel. Denton has also agreed to assist with the eminent domain process at a rate of $150 per hour plus out-of-pocket expenses.

The project would begin in the East Jerusalem Neighborhood at East Hardy and Gulfport streets and turn west, passing over the Canadian National line and ending at Bay Street and Hall Avenue. The Hall Avenue section would consist of two lanes, a curb and gutter, a new drainage system and improvements to lighting and landscaping.

A traffic signal also would be installed at the intersection of East Hardy and Gulfport streets. The overpass is expected to improve response times for emergency vehicles coming to and from the upcoming Hattiesburg Public Safety Complex on James Street, which will soon be the new home of Hattiesburg Police Department and the city’s municipal court.

“Right now, we’re in the design phase with (Hattiesburg engineering firm) Neel-Schaffer for this first overpass,” Barker said. “Property acquisition is a major part of this, as is design, so these two things will go forward probably most of next year.

“We’re continuing to look at all potential funding opportunities to help the city pay for this first overpass. However, if it came down to it, we’re committed to getting it done.”

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: another Canadian National line in the Mobile-Bouie neighborhood and two Norfolk Southern lines in downtown and near Scooba Street.

“People have spoken to us that this is their main transportation priority, is trying to come up with a solutions that can accommodate train, vehicular and pedestrian traffic in downtown,” Barker said in a previous story. “When trains come through, the whole train station system in downtown stops.

“So we’ve listened to that, and we’re working with the neighborhood in terms of where that path goes, because you have to make accommodations as to what happens when you get on either side of those paths. We went after some of these transportation grants last year and were not successful, so we’re going after some again this year to try and alleviate this train issue once and for all.”