Hattiesburg’s Transformative Overpass Project Begins

Hattiesburg’s Transformative Overpass Project Begins

Hattiesburg, Mississippi – On Tuesday, April 19, 2022, Mayor Toby Barker was joined by U.S. Senator Roger Wicker, U.S. Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith, Congressman Steven Palazzo, members of the Hattiesburg City Council, members of the Pine Belt area legislative delegation and community leaders to officially break ground on the Hall Avenue East Overpass project.

This transformative project was announced in February 2020 with the award of a $5.39 million grant from the Department of Transportation’s Consolidated Rail Infrastructure and Safety Improvements (CRISI) program to help solve one of the city’s biggest transportation issues – blocked railroad crossings.

“Today’s groundbreaking marks a new point in our community’s history, and it steers the future of East Hattiesburg toward opportunity and development,” said Barker. “We are grateful for the effort and vision of so many, and we look forward to seeing this project take shape over the next two years.”

The comprehensive project includes an extension of Hall Avenue in the form of an overpass for the Canadian National line, an additional spur for quicker transfers in the rail yard and a dynamic, digital messaging system to alert motorists for when a crossing is blocked.

“Freight rail is an important part of Hattiesburg’s economy, but the traffic it causes has frustrated drivers for years,” Wicker said. “Today’s groundbreaking ceremony marks the start of an important project, which will help to decrease congestion for drivers and increase efficiency for rail movement through Hattiesburg and the surrounding region. I was glad to work alongside Mayor Barker and city leaders to help make this project a reality.”

Within the footprint of Downtown Hattiesburg, there are 22 “at-grade” rail crossings without alternate paths if they are blocked. Additionally, the Hub City 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.

Beginning in 2018, the City of Hattiesburg relentlessly applied for federal transportation grants that would provide for substantial funding for an overpass solution. Barker, city administrators and local officials worked closely with Hattiesburg’s congressional delegation to advocate for the project.

Barker 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.

“We’re all excited about the start of this project that will improve the quality of life for residents and businesses in and around the Hattiesburg area.  It will help create a more dynamic downtown by increasing public safety and improving rail and traffic flow,” Hyde-Smith said.  “It would not have been possible without the hard work and diligence of Mayor Barker and city leaders, and I’m pleased that the delegation’s support for the city’s CRISI grant helped make this project a reality.”

“This is a great day for the City of Hattiesburg and the residents of Hattiesburg. It solves a single issue that has posed a problem for public safety, medical and quality of life for a very long time,” said Palazzo. “Mayor Barker has been a tireless advocate for the city, along with the council and his administration. It’s exciting to see this project come to fruition for a place I consider my home away from home.”

The entirety of the Hall Avenue East project will cost $13.6 million and take approximately 24 months, which is dependent on the weather. Initial site preparation and the bridge portion of the overpass began in January. Residents in this area will initially see pile-driving work before road work will begin.

This project dovetails into the Hall Avenue West portion of the overpass, which is funded by the $13.22 million Better Utilizing Investments to Leverage Development (BUILD) grant from the Department of Transportation. Construction for it is slated to begin by 2023.

The overpass is transformative, but it also serves as a great sign for the progress that continues to develop East Hattiesburg.

Barker closed, “When you have a new public safety complex, an east overpass, a west overpass, a coming boulevard and a few water and sewer projects – it’s safe to say that the area around Hall Avenue and Edwards Street has been and will be covered in red dirt for the next few years. East Hattiesburg is poised for a great renaissance, and this project pushes that along.”