June 21, 2013 12:35:38 PM
Nathan Gregory - [email protected]
Mississippi Department of Transportation Northern District Commissioner Mike Tagert updated members of the Columbus Exchange Club Thursday on state road projects that will make for safer traffic flow in the city and Lowndes County.
Among efficiency measures MDOT has taken recently on the state level are fleet reductions and debt refinancing to capitalize on low interest rates, Tagert said. He said the moves will help MDOT better serve communities in the state, including Columbus as they position themselves for future development.
On the local level, Tagert said work on three projects is in progress and two more project are in design stages.
Crews are working to finish four-lane construction on Highway 45 South from Highway 82 to Brooksville. Tagert said he expects work to be complete on that expansion, which was split into three phases, in early 2015.
"The reason for those three different phases is we had to stretch it out in order to pay for it because it's such a big project," Tagert said. "The other reason is we wanted to make sure Mississippi companies had an opportunity to compete for business. If you throw a $120 million project out on the grill, there are very few Mississippi companies or companies at all that can bond such a project. We divided it up into manageable segments so we could get more competition from Mississippi companies."
Other work includes improvements to state routes 373 and 786 which serve Columbus Air Force Base, he said. MDOT is working with the Mississippi Development Authority to use Base Realignment and Closure funds to make those improvements.
"We did some temporary work on these projects at the Air Force base because they needed some immediate attention," Tagert said. "We're trying to get MDA to let us use some BRAC funds to completely resurface those roads. That's an ongoing process."
Mill and overlay work is also being done on Highway 69, he added.
Next on the list of improvements is survey work for overlays for the entirety of Highway 12 from Highway 50 to the Alabama state line. Also being worked on is a redesign of Artesia Road, which he said will have to include rebuilding the road bed and widening the road.
"It's in terrible shape," he said. "It was never built at state standards and now we're seeing the effect of that."
Another concern of Tagert's on the state level was bridge issues.
"When you close a bridge, in the economic world, you post a sign that says, 'We're not open for business.' That's what's really disturbing to me about the bridge situation," Tagert said. "It really limits how commerce is moving in and out of your county. From a safety standpoint, it's my number one concern."
Despite limited funding and an endless to-do list, Tagert said MDOT is continuing to be more effective in making the most out of its resources.
"We're proud of our highway system," he said. "It's not perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but it's helped Mississippi in the last generation move to a different level of commerce and economic development."
Nathan Gregory covers city and county government for The Dispatch.