- Associated Press - Monday, March 3, 2014

GREENVILLE, Miss. (AP) - The sign to the east of the Greenville Bridge is unambiguous: road closed.

What it doesn’t say with equal clarity is that the road - actually a would-be highway: the U.S. Highway 82 Greenville Bypass - has never opened.

And no one can say for sure if it ever will.

To the west, on the Arkansas side of the bridge, work continues on four-laning, as transportation engineers put it, U.S. 82 from the bridge to the U.S. 65 junction east of Lake Village.

Early next month, the ubiquitous orange barrels that for now restrict traffic to a single lane either way will be hauled off. Lane striping for the three miles east of a yet-to-be-completed bridge over Ditch Bayou leading into Lake Chicot has been applied.

That 362-foot bridge, said David Henning, a district engineer for the Arkansas Department of Transportation, will be completed this spring, weather permitting, and that will permit unrestricted four-lane traffic from the Greenville Bridge to Lake Village, a 4.42-mile, $16 million project on which ground was broken in April 2011.

To the east of the bridge, Mississippi’s Department of Transportation so far has invested a total of $57 million in the Greenville Bypass - $25 million for right of way, design work and the moving of utilities, and other $32 million in actual construction, including dirt work, bridges and drainage.

“We spent $25 million on the project before we ever put the first shovel in the ground,” said Kevin Magee, a MDOT district engineer.

For now, the first phase of the envisioned 15.5-mile project is in a ghostlike state of incompletion, the roadbed built and level and bridges spanning it for County Road 454, at Wilcox Road and Redman Road, at Main Street Extended and at Mississippi Highway 1, shortly after which it ends, the bypass to nowhere.

It will cost an estimated $120 million more to complete the highway through to Leland, Magee said.

U.S. 82 “has been an emphasis for Mississippi for years,” Magee said. “We four-laned 82 all the way across the state and encouraged our neighbors, Arkansas and Alabama, to do the same. The 82 corridor have long been identified as a very important route for Mississippi.

“In that same vein, Mississippi provided emphasis in getting the new bridge built. We championed that new crossing.”

The four-lane bridge opened in 2010, replacing a two-lane terror that dated to the middle of the past century.

“We finished four-laning 82 in the late ‘70s before I even started to drive,” said Magee, who is 49.

The last section was “from the old bridge into Greenville,” he said.

With the new bridge and Arkansas’s widening of U.S. 82 through to Lake Village, the bypass promised to speed traffic through western Mississippi and across the span into its neighboring states along the highway’s 1,625-mile length.

So far, that hasn’t happened.

Driving east to west across Mississippi, motorists are slowed, albeit not for long, passing through Starkville and Greenwood, Indianola and Leland, and then they hit Greenville, where they encounter numerous traffic lights and 35-mph limits before nearing the Mississippi River bridge.

“We were looking to increase the capacity of 82,” Magee said. “Going through Greenville there were too many traffic lights. We needed an alternative way around Greenville.”

The much slower traffic through the city, “does stick out if you’re not from the area,” he said, “and not in a good way.”

The route for the bypass that would remedy that was established in the early 1990s, and “if you look at Indianola and Leland and the river bridge, it’s almost a straight line,” Magee said.

At the time the bypass route was set, “a lot of design work was being done on the bridge and on the bypass.”

Also at the time, he said, “funding came through for us to start buying right of way for the bridge. By 2001, we had purchased all that right of way. And during the same period, we started buying right of way for the bypass. Obviously there was a lot more land involved with that project.”

The state broke ground on the bypass in early 2008 as bridge construction moved along.

“By that time, we had the main span of the bridge built,” Magee said. “The bridge obviously got built, and the bypass obviously did not.”

For now, the Greenville Bypass remains in limbo.

“When we begin a phase of a project, we have enough money to finish that phase of the project,” Magee said. “This is a four-phase project.

“The financial outlook changed during construction of the first phase,” which leads from the bridge to just past Mississippi 1, he said.

“It got to the point that we couldn’t bite off another phase. Everything we do has a very high transportation cost. The cost of materials rises and the cost of transporting them rises.

“Your estimates are based on particular material costs and transportation costs and are constantly changing. When fuel costs rise, we take a hit. And on top of that, we had the recession.”

Magee has no choice but to take a longer view on the Greenville Bypass.

“Personally, I still have a sense of urgency. I’m from the area,” said Magee, who was raised in Leland, “and it remains a high construction priority for me. I’m not ready to throw up my hands and say, ‘we’ll never see it completed in my lifetime.’ We don’t plan on stopping.”

Yet, he conceded, while “I feel like it will remain a priority, right now it’s hard to see how that will happen.”

___

Information from: Delta Democrat Times, http://www.ddtonline.com

Copyright © 2016 The Washington Times, LLC.

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