By Joe Rutherford
Weather conditions hold the key to the remaining time required to complete the final 10-mile segment of what is commonly referred to as new Highway 6.
U.S. 278/SR 6 – its official name – from U.S. 45 in Tupelo to SR 342 in Pontotoc County, is projected to open in mid-June, Mississippi Department of Transportation officials said Monday.
The almost-finished ribbon of pavement will provide an uninterrupted four-lane link from U.S. 45 in Tupelo to Interstate 55 in Batesville, via Pontotoc and Oxford
District Engineer Mark Holley said a portion of the segment lacks its final layer of asphalt, signage, striping, some shoulder work and other end-of-contract work, but all dirt-moving is complete.
Rain on Sunday night and Monday brought work to a virtual standstill on the $26 million stretch, but drier conditions will allow workers and machinery to resume in a few days.
The new roadway nearest Tupelo is fully controlled access; it becomes a controlled access with grade-level crossings in more rural areas. The speed limit probably will be 65 mph, Holley said.
Holley said approximately $42 million was spent on earlier phases of the final segment, bringing total anticipated investment to $68 million for the approximately 10 miles.
Jamie McDonald, also a management level engineer based in Tupelo, said pre-construction soil testing had allowed MDOT and contractors to deal with potential problems before they happened during construction.
Holley said MDOT engineers worked on-site every day with specs and blueprints in hand and dealt with non-compliance issues largely before they fully developed. Materials requiring analysis were brought to the MDOT laboratory in Tupelo for testing, the engineers said.
APAC, a Tupelo-based firm, has the $26 million contract for paving the 10-mile segment.
The highway also is designated Corridor V in the Appalachian Development Highway System. Mississippi and the federal government have invested more than $300 million in the full corridor, which veers northeast into Alabama east of Fulton where it is part of the U.S. 78/Interstate 22 corridor.
Other federal funds used in the construction were administered by MDOT and applied specifically to the U.S. 278/SR 6 projects.
None of the Mississippi 6 section between Tupelo and Highway 342 near the Black Zion community is open, but U.S. 278/SR 6 is open from 342 to Batesville.
Holley said motorists should not drive on the unfinished highway because of safety issues.