Expanding For Safety

Published 6:41 pm Friday, August 13, 2010

Twelve bridges that carry Interstate 55 over the country roadsand trickling streams of Lincoln County are being improved andreinforced in a massive construction project expected to requirethe next two years to complete.

Ken Morris, an assistant district engineer in the MississippiDepartment of Transportation’s District Seven office in McComb,said the $10 million project will see north- and south-boundbridges at six sites along the county’s approximately 27 miles ofI-55 widened to allow deep shoulders on both sides. Bridgesincluded in the safety-oriented project will be widened to include6-foot shoulders on the inside lanes and 8- to 10-foot shoulders onoutside lanes, allowing wrecked or stalled vehicles to pull out oftraffic while still on the bridge and creating a better flow fornorthbound traffic in the event of contraflow due to hurricaneevacuation.

“Right now, there isn’t a shoulder on any of those bridges. Backwhen they were built, the standards were different from whatfederal guidelines are now,” Morris said. “On a lot of projects wedo now, we have to fix things that were built right years ago.Everything gets better; everything has to be safer.”

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Morris said the 12 bridges at six sites selected in LincolnCounty include the spans over Dickerson Creek, Bogue Chitto Road atExit 30, Big Creek, Bogue Chitto River, Brookway Boulevard at Exit40 and Union Street at Exit 42. The job is being administered as adesign-build project, meaning a single contractor handles thedesign and construction phases concurrently, resulting in a shorterproject.

Construction is expected to start at Dickerson Creek in Octoberand move north over the next two years.

Lincoln County was selected to be the site of the huge projectbecause of its importance in the event of coastal hurricaneevacuation – northbound contraflow from New Orleans ends just northof Exit 30 in Bogue Chitto – and because its share of interstatebridges is stout enough to support expansion, Morris said. The workcalls for one side of the bridge to be demolished and rebuiltwider, while extra pilings and support will be added whereneeded.

“Some bridges are just not capable of being widened,” Morrissaid. “Honestly, I think that’s why Pike County didn’t get any ofthis. There’s a bunch of bridges in Pike County that will probablyjust have to be replaced. We looked at every bridge all the waythrough.”

The job has been awarded to Joe McGee Construction Company,Inc., of Lake, on the low bid of $9,999,922 – $78 underspecifications. McGee’s crews are experienced bridge-builders,having performed identical projects for MDOT on Interstate 20 andInterstate 59.

“This is kind of like remodeling a house. You’re always runninginto some little something you didn’t count on,” McGee said. “OnI-20, we had some undermining under the approach slabs where, overthe last 40 years, water had seeped in through cracks and causedvoids underneath. We had to have some folks come in and pumpmaterial in there to fill those voids.”

McGee is hoping to avoid similar problems on the Lincoln Countyjob, but local crews will benefit if he runs into any.Brookhaven-area contractors will likely be called in to handle anunforeseen problems that require a special machine or skill, hesaid.

“We’ll be buying supplies from local folks down there, housingour boys down there,” he said. “These projects have an economicimpact on local areas.”

MDOT Project Engineer Janie Bass, headquartered in Brookhaven,said traffic control plans are still being finalized, but bridgesbeing widened will likely have one lane closed to allow traffic andwork crews to use the bridge simultaneously.

The roads passing beneath overpasses will likely see someintermittent closures as well, Bass said. Those closures will havethe greatest effect on Brookway Boulevard.

“They will have their equipment down there working, so therewill be lane closures under the bridge as well,” she said.

Jeff Knight, an engineer with Williford, Gearhart and Knight,said his survey teams are already working on the job and placingcaution signs around work areas. He said the project’s effect ontraffic should be minimal, but motorists should remain alert whenapproaching job sites.

“As always, and I can’t emphasize this enough, pay attention tothe signs and observe the reduced speed limit for the workers’safety,” Knight said.