75 MilesBy ANTHONY WARREN,
Riverside project trumps smaller infrastructure needs
For what Jackson might spend rebuilding Riverside Drive, it could repave nearly 75 miles of neighborhood streets.
The city will need an estimated $13.3 million to reconstruct Riverside from the I-55 North flyover bridge to North State Street, a roughly one-mile stretch of roadway.
By comparison, the city can overlay one mile of residential street for approximately $178,000, based on costs of previous repaving projects on the Northside.
Riverside was included among streets in the city’s first-year infrastructure master plan.
The plan maps out how Jackson will spend a special infrastructure sales tax.
The first-year plan included funding to design the first phase, but no funding for the second phase of engineering or the actual construction.
Last year, the one-percent oversight commission approved spending $500,000 for the second phase of design work.
However, questions remain as to how the road work will be funded.
Among funding options, the city could pay for the project strictly with one-percent dollars or could pay for the work with long-term debt.
Currently, one-percent projects are being funded through “pay-go,” meaning the work is paid for as funds are available.
Commissioner Ted Duckworth believes Riverside is too big to bite off with one-percent dollars alone.
Further, he believes the infrastructure tax could be better spent tackling immediate needs across the city.
“If we can get MPO money from Congress and the state, I would rather do that than pay for (all of Riverside) with one-percent funds,” he said.
An MPO is a metropolitan planning organization. Federal funds are passed through these organizations to provide funding for local projects.
Last February, Jackson received $3.3 million through the local MPO to overlay portions of Northside Drive and North State Street.
One-percent dollars are being used as the local match for both of those projects.
Commissioner John Ditto agrees with Duckworth’s sentiments.
“I think it’s a mistake to spend $13 million on a single street until we address basic street maintenance,” he said. “We have to repair the potholes and utility cuts. Then, once we get that done, we can focus on new streets.”
Jackson has at least $2 billion in road needs, according to a report made public last year.
Options to fund the project include paying for it strictly with one-percent dollars, seeking grants and using one-percent dollars as the local match, or issuing bonds and retiring the bonds with one-percent moneys.
The tax generates about $14 million a year. If the commission funds the work entirely with one-percent dollars, few other projects could get under way.
Duckworth is opposed to issuing bonds.
Other commissioners say reconstructing Riverside Drive is the best use one-percent funds.
“It’s very important for the city of Jackson. (Riverside is) used as a cut-through from Lakeland to the Baptist Hospital area. It’s also an important access route for the schools,” said Commissioner Michael Boerner. “The problem is it’s hard to compare one project to another because they’re not always apples to apples.
“We would like to spread the one-percent sales tax dollars over as much area as possible. Hopefully. We’ll be able to find other revenue sources to assist with projects like Riverside.”
Commissioner Jonathan Lee said it’s important to rebuild the roadway to make it safer for students.
Riverside is a major roadway used by students and teachers at Murrah High School, Bailey Middle School, Power APAC, Belhaven University and Millsaps College.
The street is also home to the offices for the Boy Scouts of America Andrew Jackson Council and the Salvation Army.
About 6,100 vehicles a day travel the street, according to the Mississippi Department of Transportation (MDOT) traffic count maps.
Commissioner Pete Perry said costs shouldn’t matter if the projects are needed. “I told (former Mayor Tony) Yarber that if the worst problem in Jackson was a $25 million (project) over there at Jackson State, I’d spend all the money over there,” he said. “The question is where does it fit into the prioritization. Just because it costs a lot of money, we shouldn’t eliminate it.”
Perry has had problems with other projects listed in the first-year plan, including one that would have replaced a water line on a near-vacant street. That project was removed after commissioners learned that the project would benefit few, if any, people.
The Riverside project will include completely rebuilding Riverside from North State to the I-55 flyover bridge.
The first phase, which is being designed by Waggoner Engineering, will run from the bridge to Peachtree Street and will include reducing the street to one east-bound and one west-bound lane and adding a sidewalk and multi-use path.
It also will include replacing and rehabbing the water and sewer lines underneath the road, removing Yazoo clay and replacing it with good dirt. That work is expected to cost around $8,777,000.
Waggoner was awarded a $965,000 contract in 2016.
The second phase will run from Peachtree to North State and will cost $4,565,000. The second phase has not been designed but will include completely rebuilding the road and replacing the infrastructure underneath.