Thursday, April 23, 2009
Stimulus funds to help with Hwy. 78
By SUE WATSON
Bill Minor, Mississippi Department of Transportation commissioner for the northern district, said the agency is expected to apply for discretionary funds to help complete the upgrade of Highway 78 in the state to interstate standards.
Most of the $75 million that may become available to MDOT, from a $1.5 billion fund for projects of national significance, would be funneled through the District 2 Batesville office of MDOT, he said.
“The state has to apply for it,” he said. “It is just a pot above and beyond everything else (we have available). I think we have a good shot at it.”
MDOT won’t know until December this year whether it will receive any of the stimulus money from the federal highway stimulus fund, he said.
Highway 78, a four-lane highway built to interstate standards when it was constructed, has to be upgraded in order to comply with today’s federal interstate highway standards, he said.
The upgrade of U.S. 78 to I-22 status will do two things for Mississippi, he said. First, interstate highways do a lot to attract new industry to the state and are key to helping grow the economy locally and statewide. That means new and better jobs for Mississippians.
Minor said he believes Highway 78, in as good a condition as it is, had a lot to do with attracting the Toyota assembly plant to north Mississippi.
Second, highway maintenance costs are shared by the federal highway administration once a highway receives interstate status. Those maintenance dollars are important to Mississippi’s highway budget.
“Basically, Highway 78 is an interstate highway as it is,” he said.
But the official I-22 designation cannot go on the highway until 78 can be connected to an interstate highway on either the northwest Mississippi end or at the terminus at the Alabama state line. Whichever end ties into a highway with interstate status will be the interchange that makes it possible to call the stretch of U.S. 78 through Mississippi I-22.
The construction of Interstate 269 through Marshall County would take care of the requirement. Or when Alabama brings the stretch of U.S. 78 from its border with Mississippi to Birmingham, the highway can qualify for Interstate status.
Right now, MDOT is spending its available dollars to take care of the upgrades that are also necessary to bring the highway up to interstate standards.
“That’s the kicker,” Minor said.
If the money was available to do all the upgrades and connect I-269 to U.S. Highway 78, it would still be a couple of years before 78 ties in to an interstate at one end or the other and receive its new designation.
There are a few things that need finishing up to bring 78 up to federal highway standards, Minor said. The New Albany bypass in Union County was not built to current interstate standards, he said. The ramps are too short and the bridges are not wide enough.
Some shoulders on 78 have to be widened to interstate standards, some paving must be finished, some guardrails must be finished and some cosmetic touchups are required.
Highway 78 is already a four-lane highway from Memphis to the Alabama state line.
Upgrades on Highway 78 that are underway or planned for District 1 include;
Richard Allen, MDOT engineer at the Batesville office, provided detailed plans for working his district’s end of the highway which begins at the Benton/Union county line and extends to the Coldwater bridge in DeSoto County. It is this just over 32-mile segment that is targeted to receive the $75 million in discretionary Federal Highway Administration stimulus funds, he said.
The project is important because it contains the upgrades in Highway 78 to clear it for interstate designation and consists entirely of repair work that is estimated to cost about $75 million, Allen said.
The work includes:
“This is a big project,” Allen said. “Overall, these upgrades to the highway will provide a much safer east/west corridor to the traveling motorist who travels through the state. Also, these improvements will put MDOT in line to receive interstate maintenance funds once the highway becomes I-22 in the future.”
The project is scheduled to be completed by February 1, 2012.
Work on the 32-mile stretch of road in District 2 will be done in multiple operations in separate lane closings, Allen said.
“There will be simultaneous work operations in the east- and west-bound lanes throughout the duration of the project,” he said. “The department encourages the traveling motorist to be attentive while traveling through these work zones. Construction information regarding lane closures statewide can be obtained from our website gomdot.com and click mstraffic.com.”
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