Pine Belt News

Officials Break Ground on Hall Avenue East Overpass Project

By Haskel Burns

A little more than two years ago, Hub City officials announced the reception of a $5.39 Consolidated Rail Infrastructure and Safety Improvements grant from the Mississippi Department of Transportation to help fund the Hall Avenue East Overpass Project that will alleviate train traffic through downtown Hattiesburg, particularly in the East Jerusalem neighborhood.

That project came one step closer to fruition on April 19, when officials broke ground for the overpass at the east end of Hall Avenue, adjacent to the upcoming Hattiesburg Public Safety Complex. The groundbreaking ceremony was attended by Mayor Toby Barker, Congressman Steven Palazzo, Sens. Roger Wicker and Cindy Hyde-Smith, and other state and local officials.

“This will solve one symptom of a generations-old transportation problem in our city, which up until now, had no grade-separated crossings,” Barker said. “Think of nearly a hundred years where people could not get across the tracks when a train was blocking a crossing.

“Consider just to the south, we just built a $30 million public safety complex, which will open in the next few months, and how police officers couldn’t access the neighborhood a quarter mile away because of the blocked crossings. Consider historically, that public safety complex was once Methodist Hospital, and people needed access in life-and death situations. That changes with this project.”

The Hall Avenue East Overpass Project – which is expected to be completed in approximately two years – will be constructed over the Canadian National rail line on the east end of Hall Avenue, beginning in the East Jerusalem neighborhood at East Hardy Street and turning west before passing over the rail line and ending at Bay Street and Hall Avenue. The Hall Avenue section will consist of two lanes, a curb and gutter, a new drainage system and improvements to lighting and landscaping.

A traffic signal also will be installed at the intersection of East Hardy and Gulfport streets. Gulfport Street will be completely rebuilt as part of the project.

“Today is a beautiful day in many, many ways; God gave us a great day to be able to be here for this,” Hyde-Smith said. “It’s almost surreal – you just about had to pinch me to think this is really going to happen.

“It’s going to happen for Hattiesburg. it’s going to happen for the citizens of Hattiesburg – the ones that commute, the ones that take their kids to school back and forth that have had to deal with this literally their entire lives. So it really is a good day.”

Tom King, who serves as Southern District Transportation for the Mississippi Department of Transportation, said although funding can sometimes be hard to procure, he expects more grant requests from the city.

“You’ve got to work (with the delegation from) Jackson, but you work with them as a team,” he said. “That’s what we’ve been doing – working with Mayor Barker, the city and (Hattiesburg City) Council as a team effort.

“We’re doing everything we can, and everything we need to do, for this city and this area. That’s what it’s all about.”

The Hall Avenue East Overpass project will complement the Hall Avenue West Overpass Project, which in 2020 received a $13.2 million federal Better Utilizing to Leverage Development grant that will help fund that work. That project will see the construction of an Overpass over the western portion of Hall Avenue that will connect with West Pine Street.

Officials expect to break ground on the west overpass next year.

“I think with proper infrastructure, which will come with both of these overpasses, you’re going to see opportunities for economic development and growth in east Hattiesburg,” Barker said in a previous story.