Gridlocked: How to fix Hattiesburg’s traffic problem

Gridlocked: How to fix Hattiesburg’s traffic problem
Hattiesburg traffic is a cause for concern for all residents. Source: WDAM

HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) - Residents in Hattiesburg deal with traffic congestion daily.

The City of Hattiesburg works with the Mississippi Department of Transportation to counter numerous issues including traffic.

"Typically, MDOT oversees the state numbered routes like US 49, interstate 59, and US 98. The city is responsible for all the other routes in and around the city," said MDOT District 6 engineer Kelly Castleberry.

"Usually, if the number of residents is over 20,000, the city takes over the responsibility for the maintenance and operation of traffic signals," said Castleberry.

MDOT and the City of Hattiesburg identify that there is a problem with traffic. The issue is finding the money to fix it.

The Mississippi Department of Transportation is still without an appropriations bill to function past June 30, according to Castleberry, and it is an issue that is affecting all of the department's projects.

"MDOT's purpose is still to move forward, but money does play a role in what projects we can put out and when we can fund those projects," said Castleberry.

According to Castleberry, MDOT's money comes from the 18-cent state and federal gas tax. That money is used to pay for road reconstruction projects for the entire state of Mississippi.

"We're fiscally constrained by those funds," said Castleberry.

Hattiesburg city engineer Lamar Rutland said the city has "a very large" project that they're looking at doing.

"It will provide a loop on the western half of Hattiesburg. Starting at the Lincoln road extension going into Jackson road eventually tying into Highway 49," said Rutland. "Phase two starts at 49, continues around, and connects to the Evelyn Gandy Parkway through Peps Point Road," said Rutland.

The city completed phase one of feasibility studies last year.

"Phase two of those studies is currently on going," said Rutland.

The city is optimistic about the plan, but Rutland admits it is not going to happen anytime soon. The city has not identified a source of funding for the project.

"It would be slow baby steps for us to do this project, but we need a large funding source if we want to see immediate relief," said Rutland.

The money the city receives from MDOT won't be enough.

"The amount of funds that is needed is going to touch tens of millions of dollars if not much larger than that," said Rutland.

Relief from the project could be worth the large price tag. The loop would ease the traffic on Hardy Street and Fourth street. Unfortunately, it won't be an immediate fix. The project would take nearly two decades to complete.

"Even if we had the funding and started today, you're 15 to 20 years out before you see a finished product," said Rutland.

MDOT and the City of Hattiesburg are trying a more immediate solution using the latest technology. Last year the city implemented an automatic traffic signal system called the "scoot system" on the corridors of Highway 49 and 98.

"It actually picks up the number of cars that are traveling, and then tries to adjust the traffic signals to move motorist through these corridors. The traffic signals are actually talking to each other and identifying traffic," said Castleberry.

The system is programmed to learn and adapt overtime.

"We are constantly fine tuning it. As traffic comes in, it has a record of what traffic came in and then it starts to adjust signalization on that," said Castleberry.

Both parties agree that patience is important in working through the traffic problem.