Madison County residents commuting along Highway 463 aren’t happy with the congestion in the early morning and late afternoon hours.
Not only is the drive inconvenient as the traffic adds additional time to travelers’ commutes, but it can also be dangerous because the rural two-lane highway was not designed to accommodate the number of vehicles traveling on it each day.
“It is regrettable that this much needed project was stopped and now, due to funding constraints, cannot be restarted without an infusion of additional funds,” said Mississippi Department of Transportation official Jason Scott.
District 2 Supervisor Trey Baxter said that highways with 10,000 cars traveling on it each day requires four lanes.
Neel-Schaffer engineering did a traffic study in 2016 with a focus on arterial roadways in south Madison County to help prioritize roadway improvements where traffic demands were the highest.
The study showed that between Reunion Parkway and I-55, the highway has 17,000 vehicles riding on it every day, which means the road is at 170 percent capacity.
According to the study, not only is capacity an issue, but crash frequency within the study area is a major concern.
The City of Madison Police Department records show a whopping 79 accidents occurred on that stretch of highway between January 1 and August 10 this year.
Out of the 79 reported accidents, one resulted in a fatality and 10 resulted in injuries.
The Neel-Schaffer study showed that Highway 463 averaged 264 crashes per year from 2010 to 2016, which means a crash occurred every 33 hours for six years.
However, the traffic issue on 463 isn’t new.
“Years back, MDOT agreed to four lane it with a divided median around 2004 or 2005,” Baxter said.
According to Baxter, approximately $75 million was earmarked to fund the project to four lane the highway.
“MDOT was going to do the work and wanted the Board of Supervisors on board,” he said.
Scott said between 2002 and 2006, the Mississippi Department of Transportation (MDOT) conducted studies on Highway 463.
He said a series of public and stakeholder meetings were held to get feedback on the project.
However, as studies progressed, Scott said it became clear that the project would not move forward because an agreement could not be reached on the project’s perimeters, which had to comply with federal regulations.
Therefore, it was impossible to move forward.
At the time, federal regulations required all present and future aspects of the project to be evaluated to prepare for future growth in the surrounding areas.
So, to meet those requirements, a study would need to be conducted from I-55 to State Route 22.
The Madison County Board of Supervisors wanted the study to only extend from I-55 to Reunion.
“MDOT explained that the first phase of the project would stop at Reunion, but in order to progress the project, the Environmental Document must show the entire segment,” Scott said. “This future growth is evident today as more subdivisions have been planned and constructed, as well as the establishment of the Livingston township.”
Baxter said he has spoken with Transportation Commissioner Dick Hall about the issue recently.
“Since then, I’ve gone to meet with (Hall),” Baxter said. “The money just isn’t there.”
Baxter doesn’t think anything will be done in the near future.
“MDOT does long-term planning, and that project was not in the long-term plan,” Baxter said.
Northsider Stanley Simpson takes Highway 463 when commuting to work.
“It’s ridiculous. Absolutely ridiculous,” Simpson said of the traffic congestion that occurs on Highway 463 each day.
Simpson said that route is the shortest distance. However, the traffic adds 15 or more minutes to his commute when he drives that way.
He said traffic was not an issue in that area when he was younger, but that it continues to get worse as time passes.
“In the afternoon it is getting worse,” he said. “It’s even worse now that school is back. I wish we could get something done about it. It’s just not a good thing.”
Congestion levels and travel delays prove to be especially bad during peak hours as residents are making their way to work or school.
The traffic is largely due to the amount of growth Madison County has seen over the past 20 years, including the increased demand for residential development, according to the study conducted by Neel-Schaffer.
Retail growth and an increase in school enrollment have also had a significant impact.
This growth has led to a major traffic congestion due to increased strain on roadways and intersections.
“I think, ideally, it needs to be four-laned from Reunion Parkway back to Park Place,” Baxter said.
Baxter added that he believes residential growth is a major factor.
“I mean, there are 750 in Reunion alone,” he said.
Stanley said another issue that he thinks could be affecting traffic is “a lack in speed limit signs along the highway.”