County Engineer presents Ridge Road Project update
During Tuesday’s meeting of the Pearl River County Board of Supervisors, County Engineer Les Dungan presented an overview on the history and current status of the Ridge Road project which was asked for in the January 2nd board meeting by Board Vice President Hudson Holliday.
Holliday had stated during the previous board meeting that he wanted to set the record straight once and for all on Ridge Road related stories and accusations that had been propagated on social media primarily by three county residents, Frank Egger, Jeff Smith, and Richard Crawford. Holliday had the three individuals subpoenaed to appear at Tuesday’s meeting. Smith and Crawford were present, but Egger was not in attendance at the meeting.
Les Dungan (standing) presents the overall status of the Ridge Road project
In opening, Dungan stated, “The Ridge Road project began prior to 2005. It began when both Pearl River County and Picayune officials recognizing the need for improvements to traffic flow and safety along the Wal-Mart (frontage road) road and better access to the Picayune airport. Both of those issues were seen by the officials at that time as limiting economic development and the airport was viewed, and is still viewed today, has having great potential for economic development in Pearl River County.”
Dungan stated that the City of Picayune and Pearl River County officials worked together with their federal representation in Washington to secure funding for the project and in 2006, the Ridge Road project was included in an appropriations bill. He said the bill provided $1 million dollars, which was 80 percent federal and 20 percent state funds with no local money appropriated. The funding was put in place for environmental studies, planning, and designs of the project. This included an environmental consequences for wetlands study, noise studies, surveys, construction specifications, land acquisition maps, cost estimates, and route selection. Dungan said there was 81 parcels of land totaling 100 acres that would be needed to complete the project.
Dungan explained that the Ridge Road project would need $26.7 million dollars to be completed if it were to be approved and funded. He explained that the proposed route was determined using FONSI (Finding of No Significant Impact). The route alternatives were evaluated in sections (Northern, Central, and Southern) based on environmental impact and cost.
In the Northern section, Alternative F was the chosen route and would begin on Highway 43 at Eden Lane, east of the Walmart intersection. In the Central section and Southern section, Alternative B was chosen. In the Central section, the route would follow the existing Ridge Road path. In the Southern section, the route would deviate and take a cross country shortcut and intersect with the four lane Highway 607.
Dungan explained that to follow the existing Ridge Road route would be the most expensive option due the existing road being narrow, winding, very little usable road, poor base, and no drainage. He said to rebuild that route is also twice the distance of the Alternative B route and would also incur twice the cost.
Drawing showing the Alternative routes for Ridge Road
Dungan stated that the Alternative B route (selected route) in the Southern section is 1.5 miles long with an estimated cost of $3.78 million. Alternative C, which follows the existing Ridge Road route, is 3.37 miles and would cost $8.3 million. Dungan said this data shows that following the existing Ridge Road is double the cost.
James Easterling, a county resident, who attended the meeting with Jeff Smith and Richard Crawford, said "It's hard for me to believe those numbers."
Easterling also asked about the potential of an industrial park at the Picayune airport. Holliday stated that there is 30 acres available.
Board President Sandy Kane Smith and District 2 Supervisor Malcolm Perry both told Dungan that’s the question they get asked the most relating to how can it cost more just to follow the existing Ridge Road route versus the route across connecting to Highway 67. Dugan responded, “Just go down there and look at the existing road and that question will be answered.”
Later in the meeting, it was noted that the Board of Supervisors has no current intention to build out the proposed route unless an economic development opportunity like an industry wanting to relocate or startup at the area by the Picayune airport became a reality. Hudson said that the board is only trying to be prepared if a lucrative economic opportunity were to present itself for the area.
Vice President Hudson Holliday reminded those in attendance that the current board including the county attorney, were not in office when the decision of the proposed route was determined. Holliday reiterated that the reason for the proposed route was due to a lower cost as Dungan had presented and was not related to the existing gate on Ridge Road just past Asa McQueen Road.
The gate has caused controversy in that some detractors of the proposed alternative route have stated that the removal of the gate would dictate using the current Ridge Road route. Both Dungan and Holliday stated repeatedly that the two (gate and route selection) are totally independent as the data presented indicated.
Jeff Smith, James Easterling, and Richard Crawford
Near the end of the meeting, Richard Crawford stated "I'm just relieved we're not about to build a twenty-six million dollar road."
Both Crawford and Easterling stated that information like that presented during the meeting needs to be more accessible to the public. Both Holliday and Perry stated that are trying to do that and are open for suggestions.