Riverside project stymied by lack of funding and unforeseen issues

Four years after it was approved by Jackson’s one-percent oversight commission, the Riverside Drive Reconstruction Project has yet to get off the drawing board.

Part of the reason is the city is still determining how to pay for it. Part of it is the second phase might require more work than initially expected.

The roughly $12 million project will be broken into two phases. The first will include completely redesigning and rebuilding the street between the I-55 North flyover bridge and Peachtree Street. That work is expected to cost around $10.6 million.

The second phase will include milling and overlaying the roadway from Peachtree to North State Street, a roughly $1.5 million project.

Design work for the first phase is completed, while designs for the second phase are about a third finished.

Chad Edwards, an engineer with Waggoner Engineering, the firm brought on to design both phases, said engineers will meet with the city before continuing work with the second phase.

Waggoner and AJA Consultants was brought on to complete the design work.

“There were some issues that the mill and overlay wouldn’t cover,” he said. “We didn’t feel we could move on them until we got a report from the city.”

During a site visit, engineers discovered water damage along the roadway, as well as some leaks in the city’s storm drainage system.

The second phase, which initially would have included the mill, overlay, sidewalk and striping work, didn’t include water or sewer rehab.

Edwards said it would have been irresponsible for Waggoner to continue designing the mill and overlay without reporting the problems.

“Our next effort is to sit down with the city and go over our concerns,” he said. “We hope to come out with a clarification, continue with the existing scope of work or make changes.”

It was not known when the design work would resume, or when the meeting would take place.

Meanwhile, city leaders are grappling with how to fund the first phase.

The first phase is estimated to cost $10.6 million, more than two-thirds the amount generated annually by the city’s infrastructure sales tax.

That work will include completely rebuilding Riverside, reducing it from four to two lanes, adding a six-foot sidewalk along the south side of the street and a 10-inch multi-use trail along the north side. Plans also would include preserving the oak trees that line the middle of the street.

Riverside is traveled by about 6,000 vehicles a day. It serves three public schools, as well as Millsaps College and Belhaven University.

Design work for both phases were included in the first infrastructure master plan, approved in 2015, but no funding was set aside for construction.

Commissioner Pete Perry said commissioners have discussed funding the project much like the $19.5 million North State Street project, where payments are spread out over time, rather than setting aside a lump sum initially.

Commission Vice-Chair Duane O’Neill supports using bond money to pay for it. “It’s going to be an expensive project, no doubt,” he said. “If we’re leveraging our money, it makes sense.”

In April, the Sun reported that Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba was interested in using a portion of the city’s one-percent revenues to issue up to $30 million in road repaving bonds.

Lumumba discussed the idea with the commission at its February meeting. In the past, oversight members have been opposed to the idea of using temporary monies to leverage long-term debt. The tax was implemented in 2014 and is slated to expire in 2034.

However, members appear to be coming around to the idea. While O’Neill has voiced his support, Commissioner Jonathan Lee, a former staunch opponent, said he would be interested in discussing the mayor’s proposal further.

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Cathy Haynie, head of school at Christ Covenant School, is serving JAAIS (Jackson Area Association of Independent Schools) as president this year.