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Federal highway administrator says speed is key

NATCHEZ — Moving the United States into the future means the Federal Highway Administration will have find ways to deliver projects faster, Federal Highway Administrator Victor Mendez said.

A speaker at the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials conference being hosted in Natchez, Mendez said the average highway project — from conception to completion — takes 13 years to finish.

“That’s too long,” he said. “We are looking for innovative, creative ways to make our projects move faster.”

One of the ways those projects can be sped up is through the implementation of new processes, such as warm-mix asphalt, Mendez said.

“Warm-mix asphalt allows you to build on a longer season, so you don’t have to start a project, stop it and then pick it up again,” he said. “You don’t have to split it over more than one season.”

This in turn creates less inconvenience for travelers, who won’t have to deal with roadwork for as long, Mendez said.

The process also uses less fuel, which Mendez said would help save money and reduce environmental concerns.

While warm-mix asphalt is only one example, Mendez said it’s important that those in the transportation sector not lag in adopting technological improvements.

“We are looking for ways to implement technologies and innovations faster,” he said.

Mississippi Department of Transportation Executive Director Larry “Butch” Brown said the longest parts of any highway project are environmental studies and purchasing rights of way from landowners.

Currently, MDOT is working on streamlining those processes.

The department was able to cut the time it took to complete environmental studies for the new highway, Mississippi 9, from the average time of two years down to 14 months.

The project is now on schedule to be completed in six years, said Brown, who is the current AASHTO president.

“That highway is 31 miles of new alignment,” he said. “To build a new highway on new alignment in six years is a phenomenal feat, and anybody in transportation will tell you that.”

The AASHTO conference, which began Wednesday, ends today. Brown brought the group of approximately 300 to Natchez.

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