After waiting eight years, what’s another three or four months?
Jackson city officials recently approved bringing on a contractor for the long-awaited Museum Trail. But crews likely won’t begin work on the roughly $1.6 million project until the spring.
Even so, supporters of the trail say they can finally rest easy, knowing a contractor is in place and that construction is finally scheduled to get under way.
“People say Jackson never gets anything done, but we got this done,” said Clay Hays, an advocate for the trail.
Northsiders have led the efforts to push the trail through, even raising hundreds of thousands of dollars to help cover the local match for the federally-funded project.
In October, the council awarded Hemphill Construction a $1,579,850 contract to construct the roughly 2.5-mile multiuse path.
The trail will run from the Two Mississippi Museums in downtown Jackson to the LeFleur Museum District on Museum Boulevard.
The eight to 10-foot wide path will cut through the Belhaven neighborhood before running over I-55 at Riverside Drive.
Proponents, like Hays, said the trail could be the backbone of a much larger system that would connect cities across the metro area.
“This is just the start. We hope to extend it to Flowood, Ridgeland, other parts of Jackson and Clinton,” he said. “You talk about a wheel, and you have the center and the spokes. This is the center.”
He said the trail, once completed, will contribute to the area’s quality of life, offer new exercise and recreational opportunities and increase property values.
“When you look at statistics, trails in neighborhoods raise property values,” Hays explained.
According to May 27, 2017 study conducted by the University of North
Carolina’s School of Government, trails and greenways have a significant impact on property values.
Homes located 600 feet from a trail in San Antonio were five percent more valuable than homes not located near trails, while homes adjacent to trails in New Castle County, Delaware, were four percent more valuable, the report states.
The Museum Trail will run along an abandoned rail line in Belhaven, before running under I-55 and cutting back into the neighborhood, where it will run north along Myrtle Street before turning east on Riverside.
As for health benefits, Hays said the trail will be more affordable than a gym membership and more fun to use.
“Who wants to go a gym? People want to be outside where they can get fresh air,” he said.
The city received a $1.1 million grant to build the trail in 2011. However, the project has been hampered by numerous setbacks.
Despite the trail’s promise, it took years for the city to obtain the easements and rights-of-way needed for the project.
Then, during the design phase, engineers learned that they would have to relocate a portion of the trail to reduce its overall construction costs.
Initially, the trail was expected to run behind the J.H. Fewell Water Treatment Plant.
However, to get over a drainage ditch there, engineers determined that the city would have to install a box culvert, something that would have substantially raised the project’s cost.
The project was designed by Neel-Schaffer Engineering, who was brought on in 2012.
In 2015, Jackson nearly lost the $1.1 million grant awarded for the project. (The city received the matching grant in 2011.) However, MDOT extended the deadline to begin construction at the urging of Central District Transportation Commissioner Dick Hall.
“This grant dates back to a time when it was easier to get extensions,” Hall said previously. “If it had been awarded (recently), they would have lost it.”
The project also has been slowed because of the lengthy approvals process. Because the project is being funded with a federal transportation grant, MDOT had to sign off on each phase of the work.
Several agencies within MDOT are involved in the approvals process, including its “Local Public Agency” division, which oversees most of the agency’s grants-funded projects, as well as the department’s roadway design division, according to Michael Flood, assistant to Commissioner Hall.
This summer, the agency had still not signed off on the project, questioning how the trail would be affected by the proposed Riverside Drive Reconstruction Project.
That project includes completely rebuilding Riverside from North State Street to the I-55 North flyover bridge, within the trail’s footprint.
State transportation officials finally gave Jackson the authority to bid the work in August.
Bids were opened October 9, with proposals being submitted by Hemphill Construction and Delta Constructors.
Hemphill’s proposal, the low bid, was approximately $375,000 over budget.
To help cover costs, Northsiders stepped up to the plate, raising the additional funds needed for the work.
In all, residents and businesses in the area have contributed $490,000 for the project. The state has also chipped in an extra $200,000 to cover trail costs.
Private donations came from the John and Lucy Shackelford Charitable Fund of the Community Foundation for Mississippi, Mr. and Mrs. Ray Nielson, Billy and Jan Mounger and others.
The city of Ridgeland received a $1.1 million trails grant at the same time. That city gave up the funds because of federal approval requirements.