THE NORTHSIDE SUN
A project that has proven controversial because of the impact it could have on the street’s live oaks was passed recently by the Jackson City Council, with one slight hiccup.
Last week, the council unanimously approved bringing on Waggoner Engineering to design the first phase of the Riverside Drive Reconstruction Project.
After the agenda item was read by a deputy city clerk, Ward Three Councilman Kenneth Stokes immediately made a motion to approve it, and it was seconded by Ward Four leader De’Keither Stamps.
Ward Seven Councilwoman Margaret Barrett-Simon leaned forward, looked at Stokes, and said, “you can’t move that one,” she said. The project is located in Barrett-Simon’s ward, a few minutes away from her home.
Stokes withdrew his motion, and the record was changed to reflect Barrett-Simon making the motion.
“For anybody who (has traveled) Riverside Drive in recent years knows the project is needed, and we’ll have lots of interaction with the citizens about how (it’s) going to happen,” she said.
The motion passed on a 7-0 vote.
Officials with Waggoner hope to get under way as soon as possible.
“The road is pretty horrible. I drove it yesterday and there was a water main leaking near Belhaven’s baseball field,” said firm CEO/Chairman Joe Waggoner. “If you had driven that section of street it would have ripped the front end from under your car.”
The contract is for $965,000 and will include designing a project that will run from Peachtree Street to I-55 North.
Waggoner will also coordinate utility relocation, assist with easement allocation, put together a tree inventory and management plan and conduct public outreach.
Construction on the first and second phase will cost around $13.4 million. The design and construction costs will be paid for with the city’s one-percent infrastructure sales tax.
The project was approved by Jackson’s one-percent oversight commission last year, and was one of the final projects from the first-year master plan to be awarded.
Northsiders are keeping an eye on the project because of the impact it could have on Riverside’s iconic live oaks. Trees line the median and have been a feature of Riverside for years.
According to original project documents, work called for adding “new landscaping that is better suited for Yazoo Clay.”
Former Public Works Director Kishia Powell told the commission the trees could come down to make way for new construction, but backtracked on the idea after being questioned by the commission and the press.
She said the trees needed to be removed because their “shallow root structure had helped cause damage along the roadway.”
Waggoner is bringing on a team of arborists to assess the trees, and draw up the inventory management plan. The team will include Steven Dicke, a professor with the Mississippi State University Extension Service, and Toxicological and Environmental Services of Baton Rouge.
Dicke previously countered Powell’s claims, saying the roadway had likely deteriorated as a result of Yazoo Clay.
Waggoner believes many of the trees could be saved, and no decisions on their future will be made until the public has a chance to comment. “A lot of them are in great shape. They just need to be doctored,” he said.
Initial plans will be drawn up and revealed at a series of town hall meetings, much like the ones recently held for the North State Street project.
The meetings will give residents an opportunity to review plans and offer public comment. Based on those comments, plans will be modified, Waggoner said.
Waggoner didn’t know when the first meeting would be held, but said “the earlier we get input the better. That way, we don’t have to make a course correction midway through the process.”
City officials hope to begin construction in 18 months.
Engineers still must be brought on to design the second phase, which will run from Peachtree to North State Street.
Virgi Lindsay, executive director of the Greater Belhaven Neighborhood Foundation, is pleased that a contract has been awarded and is looking forward to working with Waggoner.