A long-anticipated central piece to the ongoing $22 million Lake Harbour Extension project was installed on Tuesday, putting the project one step closer to crossing the interstate and completion.

Mayor Gene McGee said Monday evening that he looked forward to the box culvert at the Canadian national railroad finally being installed.

“If you get out there at 6 a.m., if you get up that early, you will see them start the installation process. It should be quite a scene,” McGee said.

McGee pointed out that the project has a lot of factors to consider including railroad traffic. Nissan’s closure for their two-week summer break offered a good window to get the project done.

This is a big part of the project and in past meeting, officials have joked about staking out the project location until it is completed. This portion of the project has seen several noted delays and setbacks leading up to Tuesday’s completion of this particular aspect of the ongoing project.

Last September it was announced that the culvert had come in over budget by about $1.2 million. The city even had to tweak and rebid the project after receiving no bids in the first round of bidding early last May. 

The Mayor and Board of Aldermen awarded the bid to Hemphill Construction for $4,987,485 to install the box culvert under the railroad.

A report filed at the time from Chad Edwards with Waggoner Engineering, who oversees the whole Lake Harbour Extension project, noted that the low bid was 31 percent higher than their original estimate of $3,792,284, however, he felt that the increase in price was justified due to the risk associated with the project.

“Due to time constraints placed on the contractor, third party involvement, unique nature of the work, and overall complexity of the construction effort we recommend that award of the contract be made to Hemphill Construction Company,” Edwards wrote at the time.

Mississippi Department of Transportation is paying for 80 percent of the project through federal funds, concurrence.

This project and others like it hope to increase mobility and relieve congestion on heavily-travelled roads, most Notably Jackson Street, which city officials hope to transform into a traditional town center.

“We are excited about the new dimension this will add to our traffic patterns citywide. The goal is to relieve pressure on Jackson Street so that we can develop a town center there. This is one of several projects that will help us meet that goal,” McGee has said in the past. ‘This is something we are constantly working towards.”

The extension of Lake Harbour Drive will permit motorists to travel from Highway 51, the current endpoint of Lake Harbour Drive, across the Illinois Central Railroad and over I-55 to the Highland Colony Parkway. McGee said that Eutaw Construction has already begun dirt work on the other side of the interstate near The Church of the Highlands in anticipation of bridging the two sides of the city.

The large and complex project includes several steps including an at-grade railroad crossing, culvert replacement, multiple utility relocations, connection to a state highway, and an interstate bridge. 

As the project marches forward, dirt work on both sides of the interstate has begun anticipating the beginning of the large road bridge that will cross the interstate.