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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 part.

"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."


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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.

 


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