Taming a deadly highway

Officials are hoping that Mississippi 603 will become much safer with the addition of a major lighting project now beginning just south of Interstate 10.

Local and state officials and business leaders gathered Thursday morning near the 603 and I-10 intersection to break ground on the project. In total, 135 tall, masted lights will be constructed along the five-mile stretch of 603 south to Longfellow Road. The entirety of the project lies in Bay St. Louis.

Mayor Les Fillingame led the ground-breaking, saying the project is long overdue. Mississippi 603 has been the scene of frequent traffic accidents through the years, some of them fatalities. The highway was expanded to four lanes in the 1990s.

“This is going to be one of the most visible projects we will ever do,” Fillingame said.

The lighting project coincides with a recent crackdown on speeders along 603, conducted by the Bay St. Louis Police Department.

The lighting project is costing just under $700,000, said City Hall official Buzz Olsen. “That was about half of what we originally estimated,” he said.

The lighting construction is expected to take five months, “depending on rain and other weather conditions,” Olsen said.

Funding for the project comes from federal money provided the city through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, which distributed $787 billion nationwide. Olsen said the job originally was expected to cost well in excess of $1 million, but a much lower bid was received from Killen Contractors, of Brandon, Miss.

“We’re ready to begin today,” said Charlie Killen, president of the company.

Engineering for the project is being performed by Compton Engineering and Neel-Schaffer, Inc., Fillingame said.

The lighting project lies partly in Ward 6 City Councilman Ray Kidd’s territory. “This is going to make it a lot safer,” Kidd said. At night, he added, “it’s awfully dark out here.”

BY J.R. Welsh

The Sea Coast Echo

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