City of Laurel receives landmark grant, plans major improvements

July 14, 2023
Earlier this week, the City of Laurel announced that it had been the recipient of a RAISE (Rebuilding American Infrastructure with Sustainability and Equity) grant issued by the U.S. Department of Transportation. The $24.8 million dollar grant will fund a major infrastructure project to improve traffic and resolve safety issues from one end of the city to the other.
The project proposed will cover 1.7 miles and include road reconstruction, a new roundabout, improved lighting, landscaping, new ADA-compliant sidewalks, enhanced lane markings, and improved drainage at the Teresa Street underpass.
Longtime residents of the City Beautiful are well versed in the issues at the Teresa Street underpass. The roadway, which allows traffic to pass beneath the railroad tracks, is the site of frequent bouts of flash flooding and is often closed for prolonged periods of time after a storm. Most Laurelites can remember at least one incidence of a car being flooded and trapped at the underpass. (The car stuck under there for days after Hurricane Katrina comes to mind!)
This roadway is owned and maintained by the Mississippi Department of Transportation, and the RAISE grant will allow the city and state to work together to resolve the flooding issues by making major upgrades to the infrastructure surrounding the underpass. “By repairing the pumps and upgrading the drainage culvert size to be able to handle more rainwater, it would alleviate the flooding,” Laurel Mayor Johnny Magee explained. He also pointed out that the flooding and subsequent closing of the underpass “has traditionally separated the community on the east side of town from the rest of the city to the west.” It also makes it harder to get from the city to the eastern portion of the county and back as well since that path is commonly used to travel between Laurel and Highway 15 South.
This project was conceived several years ago when Laurel leaders noticed a need for a streamlined east to west corridor that would improve the flow of traffic through town by connecting U.S. 84 East with U.S. 84 West. Not only would such a corridor improve travel for those wishing to come into and out of town efficiently, it would also improve travel for people who live and work in Laurel to move from one side of town to the other with minimal frustration and no danger of getting trapped under the railroad tracks. However, the funding was not available and grants that were provided to the city were not sufficient to cover the costs of such an ambitious project.
The grant is the largest amount that the city has ever received and is an especially welcome gift since it does not come with any matching fund requirements, meaning that the city is not required to provide additional funds in order to receive the grant.
Only 15% of the submitted projects (by requested value) were approved by the Department of Transportation to receive funding and Laurel was one of only two cities in the state to be selected.
This is the third time that the city has applied for this funding, and the grant application package has grown and developed with the help of many dedicated members of the community including engineers at Neel-Schaffer, volunteers with the Laurel Main Street Board of Directors, and of course, the state’s representatives in Washington, D.C. – Senators Cindy Hyde-Smith and Roger Wicker and Representatives Mike Ezell and Michael Guest.
“We would like to thank our friends in Washington for their support over the years in assisting the city in securing this very important grant,” Mayor Magee said.
The project, starting at Cooks Avenue on the east, will travel west down Teresa Street where the underpass will be fixed, through the 5-points intersection. That intersection will be remade into a roundabout eliminating the five sets of traffic lights. Work will continue on Magnolia Street and flow westward to Sawmill Road in front of the Laurel post office. From Sawmill Road, the project will continue past the courthouse and tax office before joining the new roundabout at the end of Leontyne Price Blvd. From there, it will go on to connect Sawmill Road to the intersection of U.S. 84 West, where Walgreens and CVS are positioned on the left and right of the street. The project is expected to eliminate the zig-zag lane patterns that make up the tract of road that goes from the mall, in front of McAlister’s, and towards 16th Avenue/ Hwy 84 West.
“Those who have become accustomed to traveling this route will notice the efficient movement from east to west and also from west to east,” Magee said. “They will be able to maneuver the length of the project, and instead of having to wait patiently on seven separate traffic lights, they will be able to travel with fewer lights that will be synchronized along with at least one roundabout that will move them swiftly from one side of town to the other.”
The next step in the process will be for the city to receive an executed grant agreement from the USDOT, then additional planning will need to be completed, right-of-way agreements will need to be obtained, and construction bids will be collected, reviewed, and voted on by the city council.
According to the rules of the grant, roadwork must begin by 2027 and the project must be completed by 2032.
~ The City of Laurel applied for grant funding through the Department of Transportation’s (DOT) Rebuilding American Infrastructure with Sustainability & Equity (RAISE) program. Only 15% of applicants were approved to receive funding. Only two cities in the state were approved- Laurel and Meridian.
~ Laurel was awarded $24.8 million to complete a project creating a streamlined corridor connecting Hwy 84 East to Hwy 84 West.
~ The project will include fixing the underpass at Teresa Street, creating a new roundabout at the five points, and eliminating the zig-zag lane patterns along West 5th Street.
~ The City of Laurel would like to thank all of those who worked hard to make this application successful including Senators Roger Wicker and Cindy Hyde-Smith and Representatives Mike Ezell and Michael Guest.
~ The processes involved in completing the project will take some time to get underway but the project is expected to be completed by 2032.
For more information, please call the Office of the Mayor at 601-428-6401.
The City of Laurel, established as a lumber town in 1882, is conveniently situated approximately two hours from larger destination cities such as Jackson, Biloxi, New Orleans, and Mobile. In recent years, the city has become a destination all its own thanks, in part, to its starring role in HGTV’s popular “Hometown” series. As Laurel, and interest in it, continues to grow, we are committed to providing the resources necessary to help all of our residents and businesses reach their full potential.
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