Flyover impact felt? Three-year project didn’t impact some businesses

Published 12:11am Sunday, December 8, 2013

NATCHEZ The sight of construction crews and road closure signs initially worried managers at Walgreens on D’Evereux Drive when construction of the flyover began in 2010.

But nearly three years later, executive manager William Marsalis said he and other managers are pleased to report no significant decrease in business.

“We anticipated a big drop off because of the construction, but after looking at operating statements from the past two years, it really hasn’t affected us too much,” Marsalis said. “We can’t really see a huge, significant decrease from all the work, which was nice.”

Natchez Mayor and former Mississippi Department of Transportation executive director Butch Brown said the planning process for the flyover began more than a decade ago.

MDOT found after conducting a traffic count that the intersection was handling more cars than any other intersection in Natchez, Brown said.

The project, however, had to take a backseat first to the Liberty Road interchange because of a failing bridge at Liberty Road, and then to the continuous-flow intersection near Natchez Regional Medical Center because of the “mishmash of poorly arranged” traffic control devices and lanes, Brown said.

The complexity of the flyover design, purchase of property for the project and environmental work slowed down the project further, Brown said.

When the project broke ground, completion was scheduled for Aug. 6, 2012, at a cost of $19,673,258.85.

The contract completion date was later revised to April 9, 2013, because of a number of changes that became necessary and weather delays during construction. A final cost is not available.

“Many of the change orders issued were the result of unexpected items such as unmarked utilities and poor weather conditions,” MDOT spokesperson Kenny Foote II stated in an email.

Even though the completion date has passed, work is ongoing, and Foote said the contractor is working to place the permanent traffic markings on the roadway.

Outside of the road marking work, the contractor will continue to work to get streetlights operational and install street signs, Foote said.

“Minor cleanup will continue around the project in preparation for a final inspection, and even when the contractor completes all items of work, the contract will be held until all plants and grass are established, which could be next spring,” Foote said.

Even though cleanup will continue into the spring, Foote said those passing through the area will see very little activity on the job site.

Brown said he is sorry if the construction disrupted business, but said he believes it was for a greater good that will benefit the businesses in the future.

“Any time you build for progress and any time you’re building expanded highways … you’re always going to displace somebody,” Brown said. “You never want to disturb anyone, but highway construction is just another word for economic development.”

Marsalis echoed Brown’s sentiments saying he thinks the flyover will soon become a valued asset to the Natchez community.

“From an economic standpoint, it brings a great deal to the city and shows that we’re not just a pass-by town,” Marsalis said. “I think it’s really a congruent effort to show that we’re a city on the rise.”

Marsalis said he hopes a year from now, business will have increased because of the traffic capacity that can flow more freely through the revamped intersection.

“We’re hoping to look at our numbers then and see a steady, gradual increase of overall sales,” Marsalis said. “With everything being constructed and them just finishing the nicks and knacks, it’s given our customers a lot more accessibility to get to our location.”

In return for the disruption of their business, Brown said he believes business owners near the flyover have received a new frontage road that provides better access to their locations.

Brown predicts the improved traffic control and safety that will come with the flyover will encourage new businesses to open up near the flyover.

Big E’s Steakhouse, which opened three weeks ago in the former La Fiesta Too location, is the first business to open after major construction wrapped up.

Owner Patricia Clark said she, her son and her son’s wife found the location perfect for the restaurant after having closed Cock of the Walk at the city-owned depot on Broadway Street in October.

“We started looking and everything kept not working out,” Clark said. “We found this building and bought it, and we’ve been happy so far.”

Clark said the frontage road would be positive for the restaurant and help travelers easily navigate to the location.

“I’m optimistic and hopeful the flyover will help us,” she said. “I’ve had people tell me it’s been easier getting here than it used to be because of the frontage road.

“Time will eventually tell, but I think it’s going to help us out a lot.”

 

Rod Guajardo, Vershal Hogan and Lindsey Shelton contributed to this report.