Flowood's Public Works Department is the largest arm of Flowood's
administration. It's likely the busiest as well - the dynamic
growth of the City has been contingent upon the successful
planning, development, and maintenance of highways, streets,
bridges, public spaces, and the utilities that serve them. No
small undertaking, these projects take years to plan and execute -
and they overlap each other in time, space, manpower and budgets.
It's an enormously complex effort.
The Flowood Public Works Department makes it all happen under the
leadership of Garry Miller, a 30-plus year member of Flowood's
government. Miller left the private sector to join the
Flowood team in 1984, and has overseen most every inch of physical
growth seen since. Miller sat down with The Compass to
discuss the myriad of projects currently working in our City, and
some items which are still in the planning stages."The most visible
project we have now is the Highway 468/Flowood Drive expansion.
We're taking that road from 2-lane up to 5-lane, from the
Nucor Steel plant up to connect with Airport Road. Being a
state highway, it's a joint venture with the Mississippi Department
of Transportation (DOT). It's been in the works for many
years, and I think we can safely forecast that it will be finished
in the fall of 2015.
"That project is a great example of the complexities that exist in
building roads. I know when you're sitting in traffic,
looking at all those orange barrels, it seems like road
construction just goes on forever. Actually, that's the
fastest part - the planning often takes ten times longer. The
political process started decades ago - first, convincing the State
that there was a need. Once that happened, there's the
process of getting funding (which can take years), going through
all the studies (environmental impact, etc.), and dividing up the
responsibilities for actually getting it done.
"On the development of Highway 468/Flowood Drive, the City took
on the responsibility for the design of the project, securing the
rights-of-way, and putting in the utilities - water, sewer,
electrical. The State is responsible for construction, and
they hire private contractors to do that. Although the
responsibilities are separate, there's a constant effort for
coordination underway because the utilities are an integral part of
the construction. The City doesn't just back away while the
State builds the road; we're in there all the time, doing our
"Once the road bed and surface are complete, the City and
Entergy will come in and complete the lighting, and we'll finish up
with landscaping. Then we go into maintenance mode; the State
will maintain the road itself and the setbacks, but Flowood will
handle everything else. All this has to be figured out,
agreed upon, and set in stone before the first shovel of dirt is
turned. It can involve hundreds of entities, thousands of
people, and a lot of years to put together. It's something
that's just not seen by most people; to them it's just a road.
"Plus, the Highway 468/Flowood Drive development is a lot more
important than just getting commuters from Highway 49 over to
Airport Road. Obviously, with greater access to the southwest
end of town there will be more growth like we've had with Puckett
and US Foods coming in. We'll see support businesses growing
up down there in time as well. That's great for Flowood, but
on a statewide scale, it's critical to provide more routes
north-and-south, especially routes around "The Stack" where I-55
branches north from I-20. That's a serious potential
bottleneck if there's a crisis. If the Stack gets iced up,
then Highway 468/Flowood Drive provides a link to Lakeland Drive
where folks can go west and re-enter I-55.
"That's one of the State's primary motives behind the extension
of Treetops road down to Pearson Road in Pearl - to provide another
northbound route, another relief point, off of I-20 in case of
emergency. You might call Treetops "phase two" of that
strategy. We all remember the terrible traffic jams we had
when Katrina caused the evacuations north on I-55 and Highway 49.
It's just a matter of time before that need arises again.
If there's a big wreck on the Stack during an evacuation,
then these new corridors through Flowood can give evacuees other
ways around that bottleneck. "We're not far along
enough to forecast when Treetops might be complete, but that gives
you a better picture of the overall plan, and how those projects
effect the state as a whole."
We asked about the East Metro Parkway project, which will
ultimately create a direct connection between Flowood and I-20 at
Brandon. Miller said, "It's moving along at it's own steady
pace. It's a joint venture also, between Flowood and the
Cities of Brandon and Pearl, and the Jackson Airport Authority.
Our section from Lakeland Drive at Dogwood and Market Street
malls has been completed southward to the crossover to Eldorado
Drive. JMAA is securing the rights-of-way for the next 2.5
miles down to Old Brandon Road in Pearl, and Brandon is doing the
same for their segment that will connect with the Interstate at
Crossgates Boulevard. I expect we'll see some construction
begin sometime in 2015. I expect once the contracts for
construction have been awarded, those last two segments will
probably take 18-24 months to complete.
When asked about developments along the East Metro Parkway, Garry
commented, "Except for a strip of private lands near Flowood on the
northeast side of East Metro, that property belongs to the Airport
Authority. It's prime for a major industry to come in -
something related to aviation would make sense - and JMAA is
exploring those possibilities. It has huge potential; it's
rare to see a tract of land that large, adjacent to an
international airport and an interstate highway. If the right
industry takes it up and develops it, we'll see a whole new era of
growth in Flowood and Rankin County.
Of course, the biggest question in the Flowood area is the
status of our notorious and ever-pressing issue of Highway 25 -
Lakeland Drive. For many years Mayor Gary Rhoads has
"attached himself to the State Legislature, the MS Department of
Transportation, and at least two Governors to get a commitment on
widening Flowood's iconic thoroughfare. At last in 2014, the
Mayor triumphed over the bureaucracies and won his victory -
Lakeland Drive will be widened to six lanes - from the "pinch"
at Airport Road all the way out to Castlewoods at Grant's Ferry.
(Say "HOO-RAH!... and thank you Mayor!")
"That's another joint venture with DOT," said Miller, "with the
City and State sharing responsibilities very much like we have on
the Highway 468 project. Flowood has already completed the
design, secured the rights-of-way, and have begun the process of
relocating the utilities. I expect to see the State's
construction begin around October of 2015.
"Lakeland will be a long and complicated project. Nobody
knows exactly how long it will take to complete, but I expect 2
years is in the ballpark. Adding outside lanes and new
off-ramps with 50,000 cars moving through the site everyday will be
challenging to say the least. Plus, the interchanges at Old
Fannin, Hugh Ward and Castlewoods will all undergo major
construction. It's going to cause some inconveniences for
sure, but it just has to be done. The problem will just get
worse if we don't address it. The end result will be better
access, less congestion, fewer wrecks, and more opportunity for
growth. That's what makes it all worthwhile.
In closing, Garry asked to point out his department's work on
Flowood's Multi-Purpose Trails. "They're not high-profile
like 6-laning Lakeland Drive, but they're really important to the
City. The new Old Fannin Road artery has bike lanes on both
sides, bringing cyclers from the Spillway into Flowood at Winners
Circle Park. The path continues over to our Nature Park, and
now we are about to extend that trail from the Nature Park eastward
along Wirtz Road to join with Hugh Ward. That links back to
the Reservoir and completes a circle through the City."The Wirtz
Road Trail will be unique because it's a more rural, natural area
with rolling hills and woodlands. That trail will offset
about 6 to 8 feet from the road. It will require some extra
dirt work to make the inclines ADA compliant, but we've designed it
to really blend in and accentuate the looks of that area.
"An idea we're considering is connecting the Trail to the
southern half of shopping district. We might take the trail
on Liberty Road under Lakeland Drive where Flowood Drive ends, and
loop it back toward the Chamber of Commerce and Market Street mall.
That could connect to East Metro, and be set for future
growth in that area."
Miller finished, "We're really proud of how Flowood's trail
system has served our residents. They get an amazing amount
of traffic - we see folks of every age out walking, jogging or
cycling at all hours of day and night. It has an economic
impact, too, when people can walk or cycle to businesses - and, I
know some people are organizing events around the Trail system.
That puts people in hotels and restaurants, so it adds to the
economy directly as well."
Garry Miller has been with the City of Flowood for over 30
years. He's seen the Public Works Department grow from 4 to
over 50 employees, and has seen Flowood grow in size by tenfold.
But he hasn't made the decision to retire yet; he's just doing what
he does best - building roads, bridges and parks. With
several landmark projects lined up, he probably has no time to
think about retirement. Most likely, he'll see them all
finished too, before he does.