Hattiesburg, Mississippi – On Tuesday, August 1, 2023, Mayor Toby Barker was joined by U.S. Senator Roger Wicker, Lt. Governor Delbert Hosemann, members of the Hattiesburg City Council, members of the Pine Belt area legislative delegation and community leaders to officially celebrate the beginning of construction for the Hall Avenue West Overpass.
This project was announced in October 2020 with the award of $13.22 million in federal funding from the Department of Transportation’s Better Utilizing Investments to Leverage Development, better known as the BUILD grant. This grant, one of the largest grants in Hattiesburg’s recent history, joins the $5.39 million in federal funding from the DOT’s Consolidated Rail Infrastructure and Safety Improvements (CRISI) grant that the City received in the earlier part of 2020 for the construction of the Hall Avenue East Overpass.
Together, these funding sources help build two grade-separated crossings and solve one of the city’s biggest transportation issues – blocked railroad crossings.
“Both the BUILD and CRISI grants were the wins we needed to move this project forward, something we could not have achieved without the leadership of U.S. Senator Roger Wicker and our congressional delegation,” said Barker. “Coupled with the help we received from our statewide legislative delegation and Lt. Governor Delbert Hosemann when they passed and then expanded the Mississippi Infrastructure Modernization Act in 2018, this project will continue to transform the landscape between central and east Hattiesburg.”
Due to inflation, supply chain demands and rising construction costs after the award was announced in 2020, bids for a $13 million dollar overpass project grew to $24 million. To help accommodate the difference in funding, the City is leaning on the funding stream that stems from the Mississippi Infrastructure Modernization Act. This act gives cities a growing revenue stream from the state’s Use Tax and the flexibility to use it on key infrastructure projects like this one.
“We chose to defer this funding source to cities like Hattiesburg because it works,” said Lt. Governor Hosemann. “Things don’t happen just in Jackson at the Capitol. They happen here, with mayors, community leaders and the City Council who are working hard at the local level to tackle projects like these.”
The comprehensive project of the western portion includes an extension of Hall Avenue in the form of an overpass for the Canadian National line.
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.
“It is unusual to get a CRISI grant and also get a BUILD grant immediately after; but, it seemed to me that in order to do the project as it should be and one the taxpayers can be proud of – we needed to do it all at once and do it right,” said Wicker. “I was glad to work alongside Mayor Barker and city leaders to help make this project a reality.”
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.
Both overpasses are transformative, but they also serve as a great sign of the progress that continues to develop East Hattiesburg.
Barker closed, “When it’s complete, gone are the days when the neighborhoods near us are cut off from other parts of the city when a train is on the tracks. When you factor in the buildout of the eastern portion of Hall Avenue, which will be complete in the next six to eight months, this project is nothing short of transformative. We are truly bridging divides,” said Barker.
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