Rest And Renewal

Published 6:00 pm Thursday, June 16, 2011

A year and a half after they closed for renovations, twoInterstate 55 rest areas north of Brookhaven in Copiah County havereopened.

Dick Hall, the Mississippi Department of Transportation’s (MDOT)Central District Transportation commissioner, held a pressconference on Wednesday to officially open the rest areas forpublic use. The rest areas are located a mile north of exit 51 toWesson on both the northbound and southbound sides.

“People not just from Mississippi but all 50 states will come tothis rest area. People from all over the world will stop here andmaybe this will be their only contact with Mississippi,” Hallsaid.

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A contract for $1,322,702 was given to Clear River ConstructionCompany, Inc., based in Flowood, to undertake the renovations.

The rest areas closed in January 2010.

Renovations were planned to be complete by the end of 2010, butfell behind schedule. The contractor will pay about $95,000 in feesfor the delay.

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) of 2009 paidfor 50 percent of the total project cost. MDOT’s maintenance budgetprovided the other 50 percent.

Hall encouraged everyone to use the new facilities.

“They are for the public,” he said.

Hall sees the opportunity for local residents to use thefacilities for picnics and other recreation activities.

The rest areas were built in January 1985. The interior wasrenovated in 2008, and the current renovation involved theexterior.

New lighting was installed. Truck parking was widened. Newbenches, flower beds and other landscaping was added. The watertreatment plant was also refurbished.

Both rest areas now also feature 24/7 security.

“This is a place you can feel secure,” Hall said.

A Holmes County rest area was also renovated and has nowreopened. Problems with the water were discovered when the Holmesrest area opened, but the Copiah rest areas have faced no suchdifficulties.

The ARRA has made several projects in Hall’s district possible.The act, usually referred to as “the stimulus,” was passed byCongress and signed by President Obama in February 2009.

“The stimulus money helped. It wasn’t as much as we hoped, butit helped us get several projects off the shelf,” Hall said.

Among other renovations, Highway 19 from Philadelphia toMeridian is being expanded to four lanes.

“That was badly needed,” Hall said. “That is a heavy trafficarea.”

Highway 8, between Cleveland and Ruleville, is also undergoingexpansion to four lanes.

Hall referred to the rest area renovations and otherstimulus-funded projects as “shovel ready.”

“Everything was ready to go on these projects,” Hall said. “Wejust needed the funding.”