Why the $17M West Rankin Parkway project was pushed back, again

Published: Feb. 18, 2022 at 3:30 PM CST
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RANKIN CO., Miss. (WLBT) - A $17 million road project in Rankin County, expected to be completed in 2021, has been pushed back two years.

Mississippi Department of Transportation says the new West Rankin Parkway will open sometime in 2023.

The 3.5-mile stretch will connect Pearson Road at Highway 80 to Treetops Boulevard in Flowood, cutting down drivers’ commute.

The fully-funded MDOT project, which first started in 2014, has hit one roadblock after another.

Joe McGee Construction, the first contracted company, began working on the project until 2017 when they filed a lawsuit against the city of Pearl for breach of contract.

The suit said the city, which is the project’s lead, required them to remove a significant amount of fill materials from the road and forced them to replace that with other materials.

Pearl city officials say the terms of the settlement were agreed to be kept confidential; however, “both parties were satisfied with the outcome.”

The project picked back up with excited business owners like Mike English, owner of Ross Furniture on Highway 80 in Flowood.

“I’d love to see this road open,” he told WLBT in a 2018 interview.

He’d hoped it would attract new customers from Lakeland Drive, east Rankin County, and northeast Jackson looking for high-end furnishings.

Former Mississippi Transportation Commissioner, Dick Hall, was optimistic the project would be complete in 2019.

“When that’s done, then that’s going to be turned over to the Mississippi Department of Transportation for maintenance, and that’s going to be part of our highway system. State highway system, Highway 477,” he said in an interview three years ago.

Not soon after, the City of Pearl got a new construction company who quickly noticed another problem - bad dirt.

“They [Hemphill Construction ] tested that foundation dirt, and they said that it was failing in some spots. So it all had to be excavated. So they had to clean out everything that had been put in - and was existing - cleaned it out and put in new dirt to backfill it,” Pearl Public Information Officer Greg Flynn said.

By now, a new transportation lead is at the helm.

Commissioner Willie Simmons said the project hit more snags trying to make sure all the utilities were in their proper place.

“We are working in a very congested area with a lot of businesses that use a lot of utilities in that area,” he said. “So we had to make adjustments to get the utility companies to come in and work with us to move those utilities to the proper place for us to be able to carry out the work.”

Then came the pandemic and record levels of water from hurricanes and tornadoes in Mississippi.

‘We had to add days to the project for the contractor to be able to meet the requirements and be able to complete the job,” Simmons said. “That in itself, when you look at COVID-19, and you look at the water situation is not just on this project, but throughout the state, we have been having to add days and adjust the contract.”

Currently, Hemphill Construction said they’re in a holding pattern due to weather, but they expect to resume work on the parkway by this Spring.

“We understand that the public is extremely frustrated,” Flynn said. “We’re extremely frustrated because we want to see this project completed in a very timely fashion, but the most important thing is to have it done right.”

The new parkway will stretch across Pearl, Flowood and Rankin County, expected to be completed nearly ten years after work began.

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