MDOT Mulls Fortification Project | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

MDOT Mulls Fortification Project

The city of Jackson intends to narrow Fortification Street, cutting off commuter traffic.

The city of Jackson intends to narrow Fortification Street, cutting off commuter traffic. Photo by Courtesy Neel-Schaffer

The Mississippi Department of Transportation will vote on whether or not to approve the city of Jackson's proposal to narrow Fortification Street and widen its sidewalks to make the road more pedestrian-friendly.

"The big story is that we're finally moving ahead," said Ward 7 Councilwoman Margaret Barrett-Simon, who represents the district containing the street. "We came up with a schedule of deadlines that we were determined to meet, and in the last two weeks, you've seen council action almost back-to-back moving it forward."

Greater Belhaven Neighborhood Foundation Executive Director Virgi Lindsay said funding for the $15 million project is a collaboration between the Mississippi Development Authority, federal grants and the city of Jackson. Federal highway money accounts for $6.4 million; the MDA is investing $4 million, and the city of Jackson is financing the remaining $4.5 million either through its water and sewer budget or city bonds.

Lindsay said the city made a mistake in widening the street decades ago.

"Back when the street was widened, it was done with a great deal of insensitivity," Lindsay said. "It separated Belhaven Heights from Belhaven, and you can drive through Belhaven Heights and see the damage it has done. It split it from the other residential neighborhood, so you had the noise and the blight. This new street will be narrower with wider sidewalks. There will be some allowance for green space and decorative lighting. It will calm traffic."

Ward 6 Councilman Marshand Crisler, who voted to approve the plan, said the city needed to make this investment.

"I think we can afford this improvement. I mean to say, we can't afford not to make this improvement," Crisler said. "Jackson is a city that needs to grow and change to better suit its needs, and we're finding that continuing to let this I-55 corridor decay is detrimental to business."

Ward 3 Councilman Kenneth Stokes was the vote against the project.

David Miller, a mineral and oil explorer with an office on Fortification street, said he feared the plan would severely choke the road with traffic.

"The real purpose of this new design is nothing less than to kill commuter traffic. They want to cut away the lanes and stuff the 40,000 people who commute twice a day through this intersection into two lanes. This will mean congestion on Woodrow Wilson Avenue and High Street, and traffic problems as people break off Fortification as soon as they can and go through the neighborhoods," Miller said, adding that Belhaven residents who have little care for commuters have been the driving force behind the whole endeavor.

"This is a throwback to that time (the neighborhood) wanted to block Fortification off from I-55," he said. "It wasn't right then, and it's not right now."

Barrett-Simon said traffic was likely to be slowed on Fortification Street with or without the new construction. "Would they rather have a service road with speed bumps or a roadway that gives you two lanes with a turn lane? This design is accepted by professionals," she said. "It is the best alternative for a roadway of its kind."

The project itself has been sitting in limbo since 2001, a victim of funding issues and planning problems rather than opposition.

Mark Bailey is vice president and senior engineering manager of transportation with Neel-Schaffer Inc., which is designing the street. Bailey said the street constituted a right of way issue in its early stages.

"The feds said even if we're dealing with temporary construction easements we still need to know what the impacts will be on these front properties, so we had to go in and do more design to figure out what was going to happen," Bailey said.

Prior to that, the Department of Archives and History had to sign off on the plan, specifically because of its connection to a historic neighborhood. Then the Federal Highway Administration—which oversees the I-55 connection—had to give its own approval.

Hurricane Katrina delayed the MDOT decision, then Bailey learned of the easement issues.

Bailey said he predicted no problems with MDOT's approval, and said the project should be fully underway next spring. He added that construction should take 18 months, largely because of heavy damage on the segment between Greymont and Jefferson streets.

Previous Comments

ID
139183
Comment

Wow! Talk about welfare for the wealthy! According to this article the city is contemplating the possibility of using water and sewer finds to do the following 1) Inconvenience 80,000 commuters a day for the convenience of 800 pedestrians who live on the street (assuming there are 200 houses on this street having four residents each). Think of all of the expensive gas to be wasted by having to find "alternative" routes to I55. By the way, the city is creating new streets in the Tougaloo area as part of the re-routing of County Line Road to connect directly to I55. Guess what..no sidewalks! Hmmmmm..why sidewalks for Belhaven and no sidewalks for Tougaloo? That's right, the Belhaven project is an economic development tool, as witnessed by the use of MDA funds; therefore sidewalks are needed? 2) Deprive the entire city of 4 million dollars that could be used to pave streets in the city that are in desparate need of work. I believe the city spent less than 2 million dollars to repave streets in the entire city last year, with even less budgeted for next year. 3)Protecting the I55 corridor from "further decay" by effectively eliminating it as an effective I55 Corridor. Is that illogical thinking or what? 4) Why do you want to "calm" traffic on a major corridor to I55? I would think that you would want to "agitate" it..speed it up as it were. Remember when a small group of NE Jackson residents lobbied against North Park in the 80's because of they didn't want the "noise and the lights and the blight" it would bring. Well, the NE elite won, and the city tax base lost, North Park moved across the street, the noise and the lights and the blight were still imposed upon the NE Elite. The sales tax dollars, mainly generated by sales to Jackson residents, were kept in Ridgeland..so Ridgeland could have nicer streets, more police, new parks. You know the things Jackson can't seem to afford. 5) depriving the water and sewer fund of the money needed to conduct an effective preventive maintenance program at the water and sewer plants as well as preventing the re-establishment of the city's ability to manage these important facilities with city employees, rather than an outside consulting firm (who hire the same city employees who had always run the plants). Why are there always tax increases available to provide profits for private companies to provide city services, but no funds available for the city to pay competetive salaries for its employees? Something to do with the "tit for tat" political campaign contributions? In conclusion, I think the idea of restoring the pastoral environment of Belhaven is a laudable goal, but not right now. In my opinion, MDOT will not approve this project for now. They may consider it when the new bridge over the Pearl River is completed and a new corridor to I55 can be installed to replace the loss of this Fortification Street conector. I could be wrong (won't be the first or the last time) seeing as how MDOT did put a brick veneer over the concrete interchange bridges in Madison. Something about recognition of the importance of the community, as an economic development project? Oh, that's right, as the capital city of Mississippi, Madison does have special importance. Yes I failed civics and geography many times A rose, like the elite, is a rose, is a rose, no matter what the color (of their money, stocks, bonds, derivitives, stop loss securities..oh the list is endless)

Author
FrankMickens
Date
2008-10-16T07:24:54-06:00
ID
139185
Comment

Casual, if you've ever lived on a road like this or had to physically walk on a road like this (especially cross it on foot, on cycle, or automobile), you'd know it's a dangerous situation. Those commuters make living and using that street highly dangerous for the residents.... Yes, the residents that pay taxes on their properties, cars, and in the city. I live on Meadowbrook Rd and sincerely hope they will someday do the same for my street. People driving 50+ mph through a residential neighborhood is ridiculous... Most of them with out-of-county tags! Sidewalks on one side of the road in a VERY dense area with a commercial district and dining with two, protected crosswalks... Ridiculous! From where I stand commuters have several options getting into and out of Jackson: - High Street (it's intended purpose) - Pearl Street (a faster alternative to High St) - S State St (can easily get you to Pearl, Byram, HWY 80 E/W, Vicksburg, etc) - Terry Road (straight shot to South/West Jackson) I hear you... But, as a person that's lived on Fortification and one that lives on Meadowbrook Rd, a road with very similar problems, I feel the residents deserve better. You have to understand that it's not just the 200 or so houses *on that road*... It's the entire neighborhood and its residents that surround it and, often dangerously, attempt to use it.

Author
kaust
Date
2008-10-16T08:23:18-06:00
ID
139186
Comment

that road is a mess! it can't help commuters to be driving over potholes the size of washing machines. What about the idea that a slower road might encourage commuters to stop & shop - at the McDades, or Katz wine, etc. ? Though I do agree that wealthier neighborhoods may win out due to more resources to organize and lobby city interests.

Author
Izzy
Date
2008-10-16T08:27:32-06:00
ID
139190
Comment

Kaust and Izzy, If we want the conveniences of automobiles and interstate highways, somebody is going to be inconvenienced. The best way to get commuters to stop and shop is to eliminate the commuters? Anyway, I applaud Belhaven for having the organizing muscle to make this project happen..for them. What about the rest of the city? Exactly, each communities must organize. So if the entire city is organized through the respective community organizations, what can we do to even out the costs and benefits of competing wants and desires? Its called comprehensive community wide planning and communications. Who is reponsible for such comprehensive planning and community wide communications? Theoretically, our elected officials and civic leaders. So where is the comprehensive plan and communications structure? Good question?

Author
FrankMickens
Date
2008-10-16T08:53:29-06:00
ID
139192
Comment

I think it would be great if the various developers and community neighborhood groups could meet with the mayor and city council. I totally agree, there are problems with letting monies get placed only in one area. It's not fair, for one thing, and it will only reinforce the economic patterns that have hurt the city. If only the city leaders we able to do this - creatively, constructively. I can imagine a city web project with different neighborhood projects highlighted. Maybe this exists? I never had much luck with city of J website myself.

Author
Izzy
Date
2008-10-16T09:02:07-06:00
ID
139194
Comment

by the way, I tend to support the project - I think cities grow when smaller neighborhoods take on identity as shopping and eating destinations. This is the shape of the new urban economy. Right now most people avoid Fortification due to the horrible condition of the road. I think it would make the area much nicer and allow Bel Heights to become more integrated. I have to admit, though, in full disclosure, I live in Belhaven. Right now I almost never drive on Fortification, unless I come up Grey mont to go immediately to I-55.

Author
Izzy
Date
2008-10-16T09:10:56-06:00
ID
139203
Comment

Izzy, I'm not against the project. I am against the insular thinking and piecemeal planning that due to lack of comprehensive planning and community wide communication creates an environment for one neighborhood to be against another neighborhood. Insufficient planning and communications that places one public priority against another public prioroty. When you look at the 15 million budgeted for the Fortification St (Belhaven) project and the 15 million budgeted for the County Line Road (Tougaloo) project, neither neighborhood should have a beef against the other, until you say Belhaven will have sidewalks and Tougaloo won't. Why is that? Both projects have the same design engineer. Why, because there is no comprehensive plan to say, when we improve streets we will add sidewalks. Such a simple thing when you look at it. When mayoral and council candidates show up next spring, I'd insist upon them some sort of writtencomprehensive planning startegy that indicates the candidates understanding of how Mississippi cities are empowered to operate, along with some new ideas..based upon things they have accomplished in their careers. What do you think?

Author
FrankMickens
Date
2008-10-16T10:15:42-06:00
ID
139207
Comment

I think you're totally right. I really haven't studied urban planning but I would guess that is part of the success or failure of a metro area to thrive - having consistent, logical planning. It makes sense to me. My fear is that, given politics as usual, people will run into favoritism in many areas. However, one new thing recently gave me hope - that is the coalition forming to take on Farish St. Development. This will be from LOCAL people, and a mix of David Watkins, Duece McAlister and several others. If we can get diverse people working together on a crucial project like that, perhaps we can get a larger, city-wide vision of Jackson in play. I really, really, think that Farish St. in many ways holds the keys to the kingdom. I feel that way from my rational mind and also, as a deep down intuition.

Author
Izzy
Date
2008-10-16T10:45:02-06:00
ID
139245
Comment

The problem I'm guessing is that no one advocated or considered sidewalks along County Line Road because there aren't any there now, unlike Fortification Street. That is a problem and a good point, CO. BTW, does the City of Jackson have a City Planner who should be involved in these decisions?

Author
Jeff Lucas
Date
2008-10-16T13:38:19-06:00
ID
139308
Comment

Another consideration in deciding to place sidewalks on one project versus the other is the population density of the adjacent land and the expected or projected pedestrian traffic. Given the higher population densities in downtown and midtown areas, sidewalks are much more likely to be included in design given the expectation of more pedestrians and bicyclists. In the more remote areas where densities are lower and development is more spread out, the expectation is that most people will opt for vehicles rather than walking or cycling. That may be shortsighted, but it does explain why you see fewer sidewalks the further you travel from downtown.

Author
Jeff Lucas
Date
2008-10-17T06:20:24-06:00
ID
139309
Comment

Casual, your arguments are outdated, myopic, and have been discredited time and time again. The trend throughout the nation is to slow things down and get back a sense of community. I suppose you are also opposed to the two-waying of Capitol Street. After all, that will make things slower downtown.

Author
QB
Date
2008-10-17T08:19:04-06:00
ID
139310
Comment

BTW, we are talking about a matter of blocks. It's not like the "congestion" you speak of would add more than 5 minutes to your trip back to Rankin County.

Author
QB
Date
2008-10-17T08:19:51-06:00

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