Venson Shelton studies one of the plans for upgrades at two of Highway 82's interchanges during a public hearing at City Hall on Thursday. Photo by: Luisa Porter/Dispatch Staff
August 18, 2017 10:12:32 AM
Mississippi Department of Transportation officials officially unveiled plans for upgrades at two of Highway 82's interchanges during a Thursday evening public hearing.
MDOT has worked with the city of Columbus for about a year in preparing the project.
"About a year ago, MDOT came to the city and said the earmarks that were remaining for the Highway 45 bypass--about $2 million--needed to be reallocated," said City Engineer and Neel-Schaffer Vice President Kevin Stafford. "MDOT wanted it to stay in the city of Columbus. So they went through some priorities along their roadways that the city has seen and with that, overall, they came up with a solution for (North 18th Avenue) first and said they probably wouldn't spend it all on that.
"Our second priority was Military Road so they put them both together and basically said they were going to do them both at one time," Stafford added.
The projects will tackle traffic flow at the Highway 82-North 18th Avenue and Highway 82-Military Road interchanges.
MDOT Executive Director Melinda McGrath said the department hopes to have the projects under construction within the next year, preferably by May. Once started, the work should take about a year to finish.
Proposed improvements at the North 18th Avenue interchange include a dual-lane southbound exit ramp to better accommodate high traffic flow through the intersection. It includes the installation of a traffic signal where the ramp merges with North 18th Avenue which, along with traffic signals at two other intersections with the on- and off-ramps for the highway and North 18th Avenue, will be synchronized with the traffic light at the North 18th Avenue-Fifth Street North intersection to allow better traffic flow.
A new traffic signal will be placed at the intersection of the northbound exit ramp from Highway 82 onto North 18th Avenue near Cracker Barrel, Stafford said, which should allow cars leaving the highway to more easily merge onto the road.
At the Military Road interchange, MDOT plans to add two new roundabouts, with the goal of letting traffic from the off-ramps more easily merge onto the road. Stafford said the intersections, as they are, present concerns for drivers with oncoming traffic from multiple directions. With the roundabouts, he said, drivers will only have to worry about traffic from one direction.
"It will allow traffic to move a lot better," he said. "It will increase overall capacity that can get through there. It kind of eliminates some user error and misconceptions that are out there about how this intersection operates."
The new roundabouts will be the first in Columbus, and several citizens at Thursday's hearing expressed concern about them. McGrath said MDOT, when introducing a new roundabout to an area, will put out videos on how to properly navigate them and work to engage with the community before the roundabouts are open.
"Generally, it takes four to six weeks for the public to adapt," she said. "The biggest thing is, anytime someone comes into something new, they need to think, 'I need to slow down until I figure out where I'm going.'"
Several citizens attended the hearing, which lasted from 4-6 p.m. in City Hall's public reception area. They spoke with MDOT representatives about their concerns for the interchanges. Two citizens, Barron Smith and Venson Shelton, told The Dispatch they were happy MDOT held the public hearing but still concerned about the proposed changes.
Smith questioned why MDOT didn't implement a turn directly from the southbound Highway 82 ramp to Fifth Street North, which he said might help eliminate congestion at North 18th Avenue.
Shelton said he is concerned about the roundabouts.
"It puts too much on the driver, as far as looking out," he said. "... Even if you put a stop sign, you've still got to cross a lot of traffic to get around the roundabout. It's just too much responsibility on the driver, in my opinion."
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