A rendering shows what the Bob Anthony Parkway would look like once completed.
A rendering shows what the Bob Anthony Parkway would look like once completed.
Federal funding will be sought for a proposed new roadway to get traffic off of the Ross Barnett Reservoir dam.

The Pearl River Valley Water Supply District plans to again seek federal funding for design.

The PRVWSD Board last year partnered with the Mississippi Department of Transportation for a Federal BUILD Grant for $3.6 million for the preliminary engineering and right-of-way phases to relocate the Bob Anthony Parkway. PRVWSD has set aside $900,000 to match the grant, if it receives it.

The project’s aim is to get traffic off of the existing parkway for two reasons: 

• The vibration from the traffic has a damaging effect on the dam over time.

• The current roads cannot support heavy vehicles like 18-wheelers.

The proposal from the PRWSD is to build two new bridges further south of the dam that would span the 4.4 miles from the Rankin County side of the Reservoir to Ridgeland. 

The total cost of the project is estimated in the proposal is around $132.3 million. The whole application and proposal, including hundreds of pages of studies, charts and spreadsheets on the matter, can be found at www.buildbobanthonyparkway.com.

“This is something we’ve talked about for a long time, but we have only gotten serious about securing funding for it in the last couple of years,” Reservoir General Manager John Sigman said. “We’re preparing our application to the federal highway administration, and we’re in the reviewing phase now.”

The original design of the dam, which was completed in 1963, provided for a single road across the crest of the dam structure which was never designed to handle a large amount of traffic and no heavy trucks of any kind.

The area on the Rankin County side of the dam began to see significant growth starting in the 1970s and it continues today. In 2003, an additional two lanes were opened on the toe of the dam structure which shifted eastbound traffic to the lower road and allowed for two lanes of traffic in each direction.

The most recent traffic studies, which are included in the PRVWSD’s grant application, put the average vehicle count at 30,000 cars a day, and the dam itself is starting to show the wear and tear from the constant vibration from all those vehicles.

The report says four separate slope failures have occurred at the dam since 2014 and that “this slope failure mode is attributed to the dynamic effects caused by traffic on the earthen structure.”

As Sigman put it, the citizens in the area who commute every day and businesses in the area need a route that is not only usable, but sustainable over time.

“People don’t remember, but the original road wasn’t even projected to be a transportation link,” Sigman said. “Over time, it has developed into a major arterial transportation corridor, and it wasn’t designed for that.”

One of the main selling points for acquiring federal dollars, Sigman believes, is the economic impact a fully functioning parkway would have on the area.

No heavy trucks of any kind are allowed on the current parkway, which means heavy trucks destined for the Rankin County side of the Reservoir must use Lakeland Drive, which constitutes an 18-mile detour.

The other aspect of the project Sigman said he’s excited about is the potential the existing road would have for area residents once traffic was moved off of it.

“We’re talking about having a fully-paved path for people to use for walking or biking,” Sigman said. “It could be used for fishing, and nobody would have to worry about getting hit by a car, because there wouldn’t be any.”

As exciting as the new project is for area residents, the process is likely to take years. The application for the BUILD grant funding from last year put the estimated completion date of the project at October of 2023, and that was if the project received adequate funding last year, which it didn’t. It also does not take into account a looming recession brought on by the fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It’s an ambitious project, but it’s a necessary project,” Sigman said. “The new bridges will likely be as high (off the ground) as the existing dam. Fortunately we own enough of the right of way that it’s feasible for us to move forward. That’s the advantage we have right now.”