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Upgrading For Safer Travel

Driving down Highway 51 may become a little difficult oncevehicles approach the Pike County line, but a MississippiDepartment of Transportation project will yield safer travelsduring emergency evacuation situations once the new Lake DixieSprings Bridge is constructed.

The former bridge that allowed travelers to cross over LakeDixie Springs on Highway 51 will be replaced with a new structurenearly twice its width during the next two months. The old bridgewas approximately 24 feet wide and the new construction will beroughly 44 feet in width.

“Nowadays you try to have 12-foot lanes and a full shoulder sosomeone can pull off if they have problems,” said MDOT District 7Construction Engineer Ken Morris. “Use to, it was 12 or 11 footlanes and you didn’t have any shoulder.”

In addition to providing some comfort room while passingvehicles headed in the opposite direction, the new bridge will alsobe about 4 feet higher than the old bridge.

“It was under water during the last two hurricanes,” saidMorris. “It was too low and too narrow.”

The clock is ticking for T.L. Wallace Construction Inc. tocomplete the $1.6 million federally-funded project before eyesbegin keeping a watch on the ocean for stormy weather June 1.

Morris said it usually takes roughly a year to replace a bridge,but crews will have less than three months to provide safe passagein case of inclement weather.

“The reason it’s done so quick is that (June 1) is the start ofhurricane season and we put it in the contract they have to bethrough by then,” said Morris.

Highway 51 plays an important role in keeping the southernregions supplied during emergency situations. With contraflow, allroads head north on Interstate 55 during emergency evacuationsituations and the highway becomes one of the few means to travelsouth for emergency vehicles or personnel.

“The only other route you have is Highway 51,” said Morris. “Theonly state route you have.”

With about three weeks of work under their belts, constructioncrews are getting a little help from MDOT to speed up the buildingprocess.

MDOT had already hammered out the bridge’s specifications, andinstead of a regular poured concrete deck, the surface vehiclesdrive over will be made out of pre-stressed concrete voidedslab.

The deck is actually being constructed off-site and crews willonly need to piece together the bridge like a jigsaw puzzle.

“They have to tear out the bride and drive piles, but they don’thave to wait for concrete to settle,” said Morris.

Those looking to get south of the lake on Highway 51 need totake Interstate 55, as no detour is available.

“It’s going to be a little hindrance, but it’ll be really nicewhen we’re through,” said Morris.

Plans are currently in place to give the area a fresh look.

A stone based material will be used on the roadways just beforethe bridge to offset erosion caused by the lake, and five differenttypes of vegetation will garnish the bridge area.

“I think some local people got concerned with tearing it out andone of our environmental commitments is we’re adding some plantmaterial in there,” said Morris.