Hattiesburg, Mississippi – On Tuesday afternoon, Mayor Toby Barker was joined by U.S. Senator Roger Wicker, R-Miss., Representative Steven Palazzo, R-Miss., members from the Hattiesburg City Council as well as local and statewide officials to discuss Hattiesburg’s recent award of $13.22 million in funding from the Department of Transportation’s Better Utilizing Investments to Leverage Development, or better known as the BUILD grant, which will fund the Hall Avenue West overpass project.
This grant, one of the largest grants in Hattiesburg’s recent history, will be joined by $5.39 million in federal funding from the DOT’s Consolidated Rail Infrastructure and Safety Improvements (CRISI) grant that the City received in February for the construction of the Hall Avenue East overpass.
In February, Barker stated, “While the railroads have been a source of economic progress for our city – and have helped create our identity as the Hub City – the locations of the lines cause a problem that is unique to Hattiesburg.”
Within the footprint of Downtown Hattiesburg, there are 22 “at-grade” rail crossings without alternate paths if they are blocked. Additionally, Hattiesburg is home to a switching yard for a three-point turn system for two national rail lines – Canadian National and Norfolk Southern. This often results in multiple 20+ minute delays throughout the business day, every day.
These issues have posed a traffic problem for some time, but officials also note that a more critical issue involves the delivery of public safety services. As is, emergency response to the citizens of Hattiesburg – from ambulance and fire support to the city’s police force – is hindered when a train is on the track and blocking a crossing.
“The overpass on both sides of Hall Avenue will be a transformative project for the future of Hattiesburg and the region, as it fixes a decades-old traffic issue – finally enabling public safety vehicles to get to people faster, saving lives and property,” said Barker. “It will also create more capacity and opportunity for economic development in Downtown Hattiesburg – making it a destination instead of a cut-through.”
Barker also added that none of this would be possible without the support and dire work on behalf of Hattiesburg and its residents from the city’s congressional delegation – Wicker, U.S. Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith, R-Miss and Palazzo.
“The work of our congressional delegation yielded a solution to a daily problem of blocked train crossings (of which we hear a lot about), long waits in and around downtown and the safety issue of having no grade-separated crossings,” Barker said.
Both overpass projects come from the two grants (the bulk coming from the BUILD grant), plus the City’s $8 million in matching funds. Factoring in the $30 million public safety complex currently being built in the heart of both of these projects, the residents of Hattiesburg will see a $56 million investment into Downtown Hattiesburg.
“These BUILD grant awards are fantastic news for the residents of Hattiesburg and the Jackson metro area,” Wicker said. “With this round of funding, Hattiesburg residents will soon see the completion of a faster, safer downtown route along Hall Avenue. I expect the completed projects will have a tremendous impact on our state.”
Palazzo added, “Investing in America’s infrastructure is critical to the success of our nation, which is why one of my top priorities as a member of the House Appropriations Committee is funding for BUILD grants. This is the second year in a row that South Mississippi has received the highly competitive BUILD grant, and I know it will be a game-changer for residents and commuters in downtown Hattiesburg. I hope to see this funding pattern continue for our area, and wish to thank the President and Secretary Chao for their commitment to Mississippi,” said Palazzo.
The design phase for both of these projects will continue through the end of 2020/2021 – with the hope to break ground on the east overpass by middle 2021 and the west overpass beginning in 2022.
When the project is complete, motorists will be able to turn off West Pine Street, just south of the current 6th Avenue/Pine intersection and drive along an overpass bridge that will cross the Norfolk Southern rail line. At the end of the bridge, there will be an improved Hall Avenue – equipped with medians for traffic calming and better pedestrian access traveling east.
As the motorist approaches the new public safety building at the old Methodist Hospital where Edwards Street, Hall Avenue, Arledge Street and Bay Street all converge, there will be a traffic circle to slow down traffic and direct the motorist to whichever direction needed.
Continuing east on Hall Avenue, the motorist will travel on a second overpass bridge over the Canadian National Line (funded by the CRISI grant) and on the other side of that will be an extension of Hall Avenue behind Friendship Park, routing the motorist onto an expanded Gulfport Street with a safe commute to East Hardy Street.
For a view of the motorist experience when the project is complete, this 3D rendering is available.
“This project and today’s announcement are reminders that in the midst of a really tough season, progress is still happening in Hattiesburg,” said Barker. “2020 will be remembered for something positive. And it’s an encouragement that the Hattiesburg spirit that Rev. E.D. Solomon spoke about on that night in November 1912, of going after things, especially big things, and getting them, continues today and will continue tomorrow as well.”