The Forrest County Board of Supervisors will soon advertise for bids for the upcoming $15.2 million East Hardy Street bridge that will replace the current 70-year-old bridge that connects Petal and Hattiesburg over the Leaf River.
Bids will open this month, and once awarded, the contractor will have two years to complete the project. The new roadway will begin on East Hardy Street just east of Lee Street before going over the river – just south of the current bridge – before stopping just north of Carterville Road in Petal.
“I think it’s going to be great,” said David Hogan, president of the Forrest County Board of Supervisors. “The new bridge has got a pretty elegant design to it; we’ve got some railing and lighting, and it’ll also have a bike path on it.
“And there will be some artistic designs on there, so we feel good about it. It’ll be a destination place.”
The current bridge, which sees approximately 10,000 vehicles per day, will remain open to traffic until the new bridge is finished. The design will feature archways at both ends with the words “Forrest County” on the front.
Funds for the project came from a 2018 special session of the Mississippi Legislature, when members of that board passed House Bill 1. That bill used an emergency bridge and replacement fund – known as the Emergency Road and Bridge Repair Fund – as part of the Mississippi Modernization Act of 2018. Forrest County’s receipt of the $15.2 million was announced in late January during a news conference near the site of the bridge.
“Forrest County is paying for it, and we’re very appreciative of the state delegation for making those monies available to us,” Hogan said. “That’s the land acquisition and the new construction.”
Officials had originally considered demolishing the current bridge, but after learning that endeavor would cost approximately $1 million, the decision was made to leave the structure and transform it into a pedestrian bridge. The funds for that project will come from the Leaf and Bouie Redevelopment District, which was recently established to take the taxes from each side of the Leaf and Bouie rivers and reinvest them back into those areas of Hattiesburg, Petal and Forrest County.
“Mayor (Toby) Barker came to us and said, ‘hey, let’s put this district together,’” Hogan said. “The county is still responsible for the liability of the bridge, so there was some concern about that, but as long as we stay below the posted weight, (it will work). Basically, we’ll get the heavy trucks and the log trucks off of it, so it won’t be overloading it.
“We will put money towards painting the bridge, putting lights, doing some other maintenance to it, and creating an event space, basically. We’ll have our 4th of July on it, and there’ll be food trucks, and we’ll put some pretty lights on the bridge.”
The East Hardy Street bridge was one of the Forrest County road and bridge projects listed on an emergency list for repairs and one of 163 across Mississippi to receive funding that was channeled through the Mississippi Department of Transportation. The $15.2 million allotted to Forrest County was the largest for any county in the state.
“Having a business on the south end of Petal, I’m certainly excited about having this new bridge, so that we know we’re going to have transportation across there for a long time,” said Forrest County District 3 Supervisor Burkett Ross, who owns Southern Bowling Lanes on South Main Street. “It’s certainly a great day for Petal and Hattiesburg to be joined together with a brand-new bridge.”
The other two Forrest County areas receiving funding are both in District 5: Carnes, which received $593,507.06, and Main Street in Brooklyn, which received $278,139.07.