Residents voice concerns over Old Highway 11 project

By HASKEL BURNS,
About 40 Lamar County residents showed up Monday night at the Oak Grove Community Center to discuss details and concerns regarding the upcoming project that will widen a 1.2-mile section of Old Highway 11 and add a multi-use pathway along that stretch of road.
The $4.3 million project, which is being overseen by Hattiesburg consulting firm Walker Associates, will add a third lane on Old Highway 11, running from 16th Section Road to Old Highway 24. The 10-foot-wide multi-use pathway, which will accommodate pedestrian and bike traffic, will begin on Old Highway 24 near Oak Grove Middle School before turning north on Old Highway 11 and stopping at 16th Section Road.
“We’ve had a number of these meetings (during previous projects) and a number of interactions … with a large number of landowners, and settled a lot of disputes and answered a lot of questions,” said Jason Lamb, engineer with Walker Associates. “So we’re treating this the same way.
“Thus far, we’ve been able to build all those projects and establish relationships with the landowners and business owners to work through the construction process.”
Officials are now in the process of acquiring land along the strip, which contains 68 parcels of property and sees about 16,000 vehicles per day. The project will then enter the utility relocation phase, after which the Lamar County Board of Supervisors will put construction of the project out to bid. 
Construction on the project – for which about $3.2 million in federal funding has been acquired - is expected to begin within six months to a year and will last approximately 18 months. If funds are available at the end of the project, the multi-use pathway will be extended down Warrior Drive to Oak Grove High School.
“It won’t necessarily increase the capacity of the road, but it will help the flow of traffic and make it safer,” Lamar County Administrator Jody Waits said. 
Several residents voiced concerns during the meeting, including the cost of the project, traffic delays and safety.
“How exactly are we going to get out of Bellewood?” asked one resident of that neighborhood. “I’ve already had one accident at that intersection.”
But Lamb assured the attendees that the project would not necessitate shutting down the entire highway, and even though there may indeed be traffic delays, at least one lane will be open to motorists at all times. Officials also said caution lights could be installed at intersections like Bellewood Road and Old Highway 11, and crews will work with business owners to ensure entrances and exits are not blocked.
“We will not close entire roads,” Lamb said. “There are rural areas where that would be feasible, but in this (heavily trafficked) area it’s obviously not going to be feasible.
“The bulk of the work will be in the daytime – I imagine the heavy equipment will be in the daytime.”
Many residents also voiced complaints about the multi-use pathway, saying the addition would be too costly and not necessary, given the lack of foot traffic along Old Highway 11. But Waits said he feels the pathway would be ideal for the community.
“Although some of the concerns were that we don’t see the foot traffic and we don’t see the bicycles, quite frankly we don’t see them because there’s nowhere for them to go,” he said. “And these are some of the amenities that we hear that people want – recreational facilities, a place to walk, a place to bike, a place that connects two schools.
“Considering all the development in this area, like several subdivisions … there’s quite a bit of people that would use this path.”
 

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