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MDOT: Interstate lights to shine by year’s end

The main entrance into Brookhaven from Interstate 55 will beglowing brightly by the end of 2009, when a long-awaited,approximately $500,000 project to install full lighting at theinterchange should be complete, county officials learnedMonday.

Lincoln County Supervisors heard the good news Monday at theirfirst meeting of the new year from Mississippi Department ofTransportation District Engineer Darrell Broome. He informed theboard his department had awarded the contract in December, and theproject is scheduled to begin in March and wrap up in November.

Broome said the contract price for the job – which was awardedto Meridian’s Webster Electric Co. Inc. – totals $327,426.25, withadditional work such as planning, surveying and inspection bringingthe sum up to just under a half-million dollars. MDOT is picking upthe entire tab, with the agreement that the city and county willsplit future costs for maintenance and electricity.

“We agreed to do this because it gives a lot of benefit to thecommunity,” Broome said. “We don’t do many of these, but we felt itwas a worthwhile project.”

The selling point for the agency was safety, Broome said.

Exit 40 is already a high-traffic interchange, he said, and theforthcoming completion of Linbrook Business Park in mid-2009 willhopefully increase the traffic volume even more.

“The extra lighting just makes it more visible at night,” Broomesaid. “It will be a lot easier for traffic to exit and make theturn into the correct lanes when they get off the interstate.”

Broome said the project would provide “total lighting” for theinterchange, as both on and off ramps on the north and south sidesof the interstate bridge will be illuminated in an amber glow by acollection of four different types of high- and low-mastlights.

“We’ve worked it out so it gives us the lighting that’s needed,but it doesn’t generate an excessive lighting bill to maintain,” hesaid.

The masts will be arranged in such a way that lighting isconstant, Broome said, so motorists’ eyes won’t have to adjust topatches of light and darkness.

Webster Electric Co. Inc. President and owner Steve Webster saidhis company plans to erect four high-mast structures down themedian of the interstate, with 13 low-mast poles lighting the fourramps. The high-masts are 130 feet tall, while the low-mastsmeasure 40 feet in height.

In all, the 17 poles will house 41 lights, producing anillumination of three to five foot-candles, a standard lightmeasurement. He said three to five foot-candles is equivalent tothe light produced in the parking lots of new grocery stores.

Each pole has a lowering mechanism, Webster said, allowing crewsto lower the light structures via internal steel cables to a heightof 6 feet off the ground. Changing bulbs and performing maintenancemay then be done with the use of a common stepladder, he said.

“These lights will certainly make a big difference,” saidWebster, whose company has installed similar lighting all acrossthe state, most notably in southern Mississippi to replace mastsdamaged by Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

“You’re much more apt to get off the interstate on aninterchange in an unfamiliar place if that intersection is welllit,” he continued. “You’ll probably see a little up-tick as far aspeople getting off the interstate in Brookhaven to stop and do someshopping along the way.”

Webster said the mayor of Ellisville rallied MDOT to send hiscompany in after Katrina took out interstate lighting there,complaining that there was a noticeable decrease in traffic cominginto town from Interstate 59.

Webster predicted his company would complete the job in earlyfall, before the project’s November deadline. MDOT will require theinside lanes of I-55 in both directions to be closed while the workis carried out, he said.

The loss of a lane in each direction is no problem for city andcounty officials, who have yearned for lighting at Exit 40 foryears.

“People traveling through our area will be able to see ourprimary interchange before they get to it and realize there’s anarea of commerce that can lure them off the interstate to dobusiness in Brookhaven,” said Brookhaven-Lincoln County Chamber ofCommerce Executive Vice President Cliff Brumfield. “As it is now,travelers don’t realize they’re coming to a major town before theycrest the hill, and by then it’s too late.”

Lincoln County Chancery Clerk Tillmon Bishop said new interstatelighting is not a cure-all, but a “good piece of the puzzle” in theongoing quest for economic development.

“We need people to get off that interstate, feel comfortabledoing it and do business in Brookhaven,” he said. “It’s been darkfor far too long out there.”

Brookhaven Mayor Bob Massengill emphasized the effort that wentinto finally landing the project at Exit 40. Former state Rep. Dr.Jim Barnett worked toward the project years ago, he said, and hiswork has been taken up by Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith and, most recently,by Rep. Becky Currie.

“We have more than 27,000 vehicles a day traveling down BrookwayBoulevard, and many of those are people getting off theinterstate,” Massengill said. “This will let them see thatBrookhaven is a place they’ll want to consider stopping at and justmake their trip safer at night.”