By Errol Castens
OXFORD – Heavy equipment is already in place to start a major reworking and expansion on one of Oxford’s busiest interchanges and a major entrance to the University of Mississippi.
Talbot Brothers Contracting Co. will begin work Saturday on the $6.8 million project to add double-lane roundabouts at each end of the bridge on Old Taylor Road over State Highway 6/U.S. Highway 278. The other part of the project will be to add a second lane in each direction to the north-south bridge, along with a sidewalk on the east side. A Mississippi Department of Transportation (MDOT) document states that the project is expected to be completed late this year.
While MDOT traffic counts across the bridge itself are not available, a 2012 count showed Old Taylor Road carried an average daily load of 11,000 vehicles south of the interchange and 13,000 on the north side, toward the university. With an ongoing rush to build new student housing along Old Taylor south of Highway 6, vehicle numbers are likely only to grow.
Highway 6/278 funnels a daily average of 29,000 and 35,000 vehicles to the west and the east of the interchange, respectively.
“It’s a major, major intersection with a great deal of traffic,” said MDOT spokesman Jason Scott. “That’s why this expansion is so important.”
As soon as the spring semester ends at Ole Miss in early May, the bridge will close. Traffic to and from the south will instead be funneled through a new, temporary road from Old Taylor Road through the university’s Whirlpool property onto Coliseum Drive, which is the campus’s other southside gateway.
“We’re working on some longer range plans to have some access through there permanently,” said Oxford City Engineer Bart Robinson. “I think (the university) will be very careful to have it not be a thoroughfare, to have traffic-calming measures in place to discourage people from cutting through.”
Oxford officials have given clearance for construction on the rush project to continue nights and weekends. During certain operations that would make it dangerous for cars to go under the bridge, traffic will be rerouted, likely via exit lanes, Robinson said.
While construction is expected to continue through November, the bridge is slated to reopen Aug. 15, in time for the fall semester.
All too aware of the bottlenecks that could result from a delay, Robinson said, “That August deadline is my only real concern with this project.”