Mayor Toby Barker breaks ground on enhancement project

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The City of Hattiesburg and Mayor Toby Barker broke ground on North 31st Avenue to celebrate the projects that include road widening, sidewalk expansions and beatification which will take an estimated six months to complete.

“Today we officially break ground on a project that will enhance a main thoroughfare in the Midtown District better connecting the students, faculty and staff at the Southern Miss campus to the District at Midtown,” Barker said.

The city held a press conference at 10 a.m. May 1 to explain the project. Barker was the first to speak. The project costs $790,000 with the city contributing over $160,000 toward the completion. The rest of the funding came from the Mississippi Development Authority (MDA). Barker said since the project took years, they needed more funding.

“When you have a project several years in the making, construction costs often rise over that time period,” Barker said. “As we moved closer to completion earlier this year, it was clear that we were going to need some more funding to pull this project off.”

That extra funding came from the MDA.

“It only took one call to [deputy director of the MDA] Mike McGrevey who then talked to [executive director of the MDA] Glenn McCullough and MDA immediately to cover the additional cost,” Barker said. “I can’t overstate what a friend Hattiesburg has in the Mississippi Development Authority under [McCullough]’s leadership.”

McCullough said he is happy that MDA and the City of Hattiesburg are able to partner for this project.

“In Mississippi, we win because we play as one team, and this exciting road expansion is just evidence that Mississippi’s economy is growing,” McCullough said.

According to Barker, the North 31st Avenue Midtown enhancement project will expand the road and make room for a median as well as address drainage issues the road has. Senior project manager at Neel-Schaffer, an engineering company headquartered in Jackson, Doug Wimberly said they will be replacing the sidewalk and replacing trees by the faculty parking between Arthell Kelly Hall and the George Hurst Building as well as expanding the sidewalk between North 31st and the Arthell Kelly. The median will have trees and light posts.

Barker said the addition of a median and trees will help absorb stormwater and help the drainage issue further.

Councilman for Ward 1 Jeffery George said he was excited for this project to begin, saying that it is another example of how the city is committed to improving infrastructure and addressing the needs of the community.

“This project has been needed for a number of years,” George said. “I know that throughout the construction process there may be some headache and this may be a little inconvenient, but when the project is complete, the students, faculty and staff of Southern Miss will have a much smoother, more aesthetically pleasing and a safer way to get on and off of campus.”

Barker said the main project started with the previous mayor several years ago and  since had to raise more money. Barker said the development of Midtown came from the partnership of Southern Miss and the Area Development Partnership (ADP.) They went to Governor Phil Bryant. They told Bryant that because the area is home to Southern Miss, Forrest General and Hattiesburg Clinic, the area would prosper from residential and retail growth.

“You have the city’s number one, number two and number three largest employers in one concentrated area and with that comes incredible potential for retail and residential growth,” Barker said. “However, with that comes a strain on the city’s infrastructure. Particularly to accommodate the needs for motorists, cyclists and pedestrians as well as the drainage structure in this Midtown area.”

Both George and Barker said there will be more projects announced in the coming months.