Are we there yet?

The I-55 South expansion project

JACKSON, Miss. (WJTV) – South Jackson and Byram drivers are no doubt more familiar with the construction along I-55 South than anyone else.

The expansion project has made the already congested piece of interstate even more complicated since 2013.

As 2017 starts to wrap, the Mississippi Department of Transportation (MDOT) is confident that their equipment will be out of the way, and all 4 lanes, plus the 2 new lanes, will be ready for travel in August 2018.

“The roadway was getting in such bad shape that we could not physically maintain it. So we had to get in there to be able to get all of that old concrete out, and replace it with the asphalt that we’re laying now,” District Engineer Brian Ratliff, said.

He says the wet summer could have slowed the project down, but the primary contractor Yates Construction has been doing extra work to keep it on schedule.

“All the dirt work on the main line is complete, which is a good thing leading into the winter. We hope we have some good warm weather during the day and the night, to be able to put a lot of asphalt down this year,” Ratliff is confident that this time, the I-55 South project will be done on time. “It’s not easy to do, and I think this project since April 15, 2016, we’ve done a really good job of trying to keep that schedule and deliver to the public.”

On April 15, 2016, the first phase of the project was finally complete and the second phase started. But there’s another reason that date is important.

In January 2015 MDOT paused construction because of a design flaw in the retaining walls, and unanticipated soil conditions. MDOT had to end it’s original contract with James Construction, split the project into two phase, and place it back up for bid.

This pushed the original estimated completion date back nearly 3 years. James Construction Group rebooted phase one in July 2015 for a $21 million contract. And Yates started phase two for $85 million.

“It’s $50,000 a day liquidated damage fines that they don’t get complete on time. So the contractor goes in and spends a little bit of extra money to save on the back end of being late”.

Ratliff says any given day, there could be 100 workers out there.

On this project, they’ve given about 13 days of extension because of hurricane season this year. But, he says they’re still within the same month of the original completion date.

By the end of 2017, he says they hope to have traffic moving on the new south bound lanes between Old Byram Road and Siwell Road.

Drivers will also be able to use the 12 foot shoulder in that section, which is a little relief from the concrete walls that hug the lanes.

And in 2018 we’ll start to see the permanent median wall and asphalt down the whole 8 miles. “Definitely asphalt is the most expensive line item we have on this project. We’re paving 60 feet wide here for three 12 foot lanes and two 12 foot shoulders,” Ratliff said.

The final step before completion will be to stripe the lanes.

Speeding is not uncommon throughout the construction zone. Ratliff says the most important thing MDOT needs drivers to do is follow the speed limit.