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Mississippi DOT Extends I-20 Frontage Road in Vicksburg

by: Larry Bernstein
Mississippi DOT is extending the I-20 frontage road near Vicksburg to create better access to local businesses and schools.
Mississippi DOT is extending the I-20 frontage road near Vicksburg to create better access to local businesses and schools.
Vicksburg, Mississippi, is famous for being the home of a key Civil War battle. The town, which has a population of approximately 23,000, is in Western Mississippi and is located on the Mississippi River. Interstate 20, a major east-west highway that runs from Texas to South Carolina. The Mississippi Department of Transportation (MDOT) is in the midst of a project that will impact I-20.

There’s already an existing frontage road along I-20 that spans approximately four miles. As of 2015, the frontage road had an average daily traffic count of 4,200 vehicles and that amount is projected to rise to 7,600 by 2035. The current project known as I-20 Frontage Road Extension will extend the south I-20 frontage road from where it currently dead ends at Old Highway 27 to U.S. 80/SR 822. The addition is just under one mile and will run two ways – one lane in each direction.

In addition to the work on the frontage road, the project will include work on five bridges that are within the area of I-20. MDOT identified the structures as needing new bridge railings and other minor repairs. With the new railing, the bridges will be brought up to standard. Among the minor repairs is painting of the steel structures. Two of the five bridges are over railroad tracks, and the other three are over roads.

Improving Traffic Flow
I-20 is a major four-lane highway in the area as it leads to the capital, Jackson (approximately 45 miles east via I-20). The interstate has an average daily traffic count in the area of 59,000, with 23 percent of it being trucks.

Will Gordon is a Project Engineer with MDOT and lives in the area. He is charged, with among other things, overseeing the inspectors who are examining the contractor’s work to ensure it’s up to spec.

“Many locals use I-20 as a main road through Vicksburg, and the extended frontage road will lead people to use it as another option and stay off of I-20,” says Gordon.

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Keeping local commuters off the highway will increase safety and allow traffic to flow more smoothly. “We believe this project will improve the traffic flow and relieve conditions on I-20 as well as the ramps on I-20,” Gordon says.

The current end of the frontage road leads traffic onto a local road. With the extension, local traffic will be able to easily cross over railroad tracks and get to U.S. 80. It will also make it easier to get to local retail, restaurants, and hotels.

Additionally, there’s a school near the south frontage road. Traffic is often backed up on to I-80 in the afternoons when school lets out. When the project is complete, it will give families more options to get to and from the school.

The frontage road has other future benefits. Gordon notes that MDOT plans to widen I-20. They will be able to redirect traffic on the frontage road while construction takes place.

Box Culvert Challenges
Underneath I-20 lies a 12-foot by 10-foot box culvert. The team had to extend the box culvert 500 feet so it would run under the frontage road.

Gaining access to the box culvert was challenging as it’s not a large hole. However, the greater challenge was the potential environmental damage. “We had to be careful not to deposit sediment in the stream,” Gordon says. “We need to have clean water and not impact the water downstream.”

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The team had to get into the culvert area while causing the least amount of impact. Ultimately, they put down mats to get material in the area. The team also built mulch burns, which water can run through. For erosion control, they built a divergent ditch and installed pumps.

A second challenge was dealing with the utilities in the area. There are two water lines and a gas line running along a road that is being bridged over as part of the south frontage road extension. Ultimately, the team decided to relocate the utility lines 30 feet west of the existing lines, where they could easily drive piles.

On Time and On Budget
The project began in the fall of 2019 and is anticipated to be complete in the spring of 2023. However, Gordon believes the project could finish early as the team is moving forward at a good pace and is ahead of schedule so far.

Gordon credits the contractor, T.L. Wallace Construction, Inc. – who was awarded the contract based on submitting the lowest bid – for the good progress. T.L. Wallace, who has worked with the state before, “brings lots of expertise, does good work, and is easy to work with” Gordon says. In addition, T.L. Wallace has brought lots of equipment and personnel to the job, which improves the schedule.

Lastly, Gordon says “We have a good set of plans that has not required many changes.” When changes, questions, and issues have arisen, they’ve been addressed quickly.

The project is fully funded by the state for $19.9 million. It is currently on budget. The cost to move the utility lines was a small percentage added, but was handled by the contingency that the state built into the budget.

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When the project is complete and the south frontage road is extended, I-20 will flow more smoothly and will be safer. Local commuters in Vicksburg will have easier access to local businesses, which will help the economy, and tourists who visit the famous historical sites in the area will have an easier time getting around town.

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