HATTIESBURG, Miss. (WDAM) - The federal government is helping the Hub City solve a major traffic problem downtown by providing millions of dollars in grants to build two railroad overpasses.
A Consolidated Rail Infrastructure and Safety Improvements grant for more than $5.3 million and a Better Utilizing Investment to Leverage Development grant for $13.2 million will assist the city in constructing bridges over the Canadian National and Norfolk Southern rail lines.
For decades, motorists driving through downtown Hattiesburg have faced long delays while waiting on trains using those railways.
Both of the new overpasses will be located along Hall Avenue.
“What you’ll have [after construction is] an expanded Hall Avenue, that will connect East Hardy through Gulfport Street, through East Jerusalem, over the Canadian National line, down Hall Avenue and then over a Hall Avenue western overpass to bring you onto west Pine Street,” Hattiesburg Mayor Toby Barker said.
Hattiesburg received the CRISI grant in February and the BUILD grant in September.
“So, in literally nine months, we’ve had two grants to help us solve this issue for the downtown area," Barker said.
Total cost of the project is about $25 million dollars.
The city of Hattiesburg is paying several million dollars matching funds.
“We paid off some debt a couple of years ago. We’re going to pay off the rest of that general fund debt that was there in the next couple of years, so that opened up about $45 million in new bonding authority with zero tax increase,” Barker said. “So, while most that went to the [new] Police Station, it also freed up some funds for a local match for these grants in case we got them. Luckily for us we did get them, and so now, we’re able to tackle the entire issue without having to go back and go through the bonding process again.”
“The city’s on the hook for about $8 million, which is a really good ratio for us,” Barker said.
The overpasses are mostly good news for the downtown business community, according to Andrea Saffle, executive director of the Downtown Hattiesburg Association.
“It’s going to create a safer, more walkable downtown, diverting some of that traffic away,” Saffle said. “It does have some negatives, again, because you’re directing traffic away from downtown, but I do think the positives do outweigh the negatives.”
And Hattiesburg Ward 2 councilwoman Deborah Delgado is excited about what the overpasses will mean for the Hall Avenue area of town.
“It’s going to be a great opportunity to get people out of that community or to gain access to that community when the train is on the tracks,” Delgado said. “So it means a whole lot more infrastructure work that’s going to go on over there. Once we’ve done this work, it’s going to be a great asset to our community.”
Delgado says she’d like to see the city build additional overpasses in the future.
Barker hopes to break ground on one of the overpasses in 2021. He says it could take several years for both projects to be completed.