It’s been there nearly a century, but now the state wants to take it down.
The U.S. 82 underpass at Leland may be destroyed in the coming years.
Kevin Magee, district engineer for the Mississippi Department of Transportation, says MDOT is developing a plan for removal of the underpass and leveling out the highway. He made the announcement Monday during a meeting of the transportation committee of the Chamber and EDC of Washington County.
Magee calls the underpass a safety, traffic flow and commercial problem. And maintenance on a nearby pumping station has become too costly.
“We're working with pumps that have been there since the '30s. They're great pumps, but it's too hard to find parts for them and too hard to work on them.”
The Illinois Central Railroad Company had a north-south line that passed through Leland and other Delta communities. U.S. 61 was built parallel to the tracks in the Leland area. For many years, both railroad and highway used the same bridge, but for safety reasons, the highway was moved a short distance to the east. The road, however, remained open for many years until eventually it was closed.
The rail line was eventually shut down. Over the past decade, tracks have been removed in nearly all locations, with several communities converting the mounds into walking trails.
With the railroad no longer in use, MDOT see no need for the bridge to remain. The agency is working with a consulting firm to develop a plan for demolishing the bridge and the underpass retaining wall, fill in the land so that U.S. 82 will be a level highway. Magee says this has to be done with consideration for maintaining drainage at the location and traffic routes.
Since the 1930s, a four-story pumping station has worked to keep the underpass from flooding. One level of the station is above ground. The pumps are electrical, so if the city of Leland loses power during heavy rainfall, the underpass floods. Magee says this happens about once a year.
Also, because of the age of the pumps, there are no replacement parts. Parts have to be manufactured. Magee says MDOT has spent lots of money on maintenance of the pumping station and doesn’t want to spend any more.
Another issue is clearance. The underpass has 13 feet, 7 inches of clearance. Large trucks and wide loads must avoid Leland or use residential streets. For that reason, some commercial haulers use other routes to get to and from the Mississippi River bridge – bypassing both Leland and Greenville.
Magee also says the four-way stop sign at the intersection of U.S. 82 and Old Highway 61/Broad Street makes for inefficient travel. When work begins on destroying the underpass, a traffic signal will be installed and will remain when the project is complete.
Magee says MDOT hopes to begin the project in about a year.