Environmental Review Toolkit
Accelerating Project Delivery

Airport Parkway and MS 25 Connectors Project

Mississippi Department of Transportation
Hinds and Rankin Counties, Mississippi

Introduction

Airport Parkway/MS 25 Connector Preferred Alternative Route Map
Map Location of Preferred Alternative

The Jackson, Mississippi metropolitan area had been experiencing substantial population and economic growth throughout the 1990s. The demands created by this growth were already impacting on congested segments of the study area, resulting in continued poor Levels of Service (LOS). Given the anticipated future growth in residential and commercial development, these congested conditions were projected to worsen even more by the year 2020.

The Airport Parkway and MS 25 Connectors Project was proposed in response to this growth and resulting congestion problems. The project area included the City of Jackson in Hinds County on the west and the western portion of Rankin County, including the communities of Flowood and Pearl, east to Jackson International Airport. The Airport Parkway and MS 25 Connectors, which would diverge in the middle of the study area, were both proposed to be constructed on new alignments totaling 9.3 miles in length.

While large portions of the corridor were undeveloped and located in the 100-year floodplain of the Pearl River, there were also a number of scattered residential pockets and commercial / industrial areas concentrated along major roadways.

Project Purpose

The purpose of this project was to respond to existing and projected travel demands by providing a high speed, controlled access interstate-type facility between the City of Jackson and the Jackson International Airport located several miles to the east. The facility was intended to: respond to increased traffic usage; reduce network travel times via needed roadway links; and improve levels of service and operational efficiency along existing roadways. The proposed project would provide a new crossing of the Pearl River and provide needed relief for truck and commuter traffic along such roadways as MS 25 (Lakeland Drive), MS 468 (Flowood Drive), and U.S. 80. It would also improve safety conditions along those roadways.

Rankin County Demographics
Population: 115,327
Racial and Ethnic Composition:
  • Hispanic or Latino: 1%
  • White: 81%
  • African American: 17%
  • Other: 1%
Source: 2000 U.S. Census
Hinds County Demographics
Population: 250,800
Racial and Ethnic Composition:
  • Hispanic or Latino: .7%
  • White: 37%
  • African American: 61%
  • Other: .9%
Source: 2000 U.S. Census

The project was also intended to enhance access between the central business district of the City of Jackson, the airport and the several study area communities within the corridor. Specifically, the project would directly connect Route I-55 on the west, MS 25 (Lakeland Drive) on the northeast, and MS 475 (Airport Road) on the southeast.

It was also determined that this facility had the potential to enhance express bus service and rideshare strategies, as well as to encourage future multi-modal strategies to access the airport.

How Project Development Advanced Through NEPA


Project Chronology
  • Pearl River Bridge Feasibility Study, Hinds and Rankin Counties: March 1992
  • Pearl River Bridge/Airport Corridor: MS 25 Connector Study: April 1995
  • Project Listed as EA: February 1996
  • EA Scoping Meeting: October 1996
  • Airport Parkway Feasibility Study, Technical Memorandum: November 1997
  • Airport Parkway: Gulf Line Road Interchange, Technical Memorandum: August 1998
  • EA Upgraded to EIS: December 1998
  • Notice of Intent Issued: January 1999
  • Draft EIS Approved: April 1999
  • Public Hearing: April 1999
  • Final EIS Approved: September 1999
  • Record of Decision: November 1999

The NEPA EIS process for the Airport Parkway and MS 25 Connectors project took a total of 10 months, from Notice of Intent (NOI) to Record of Decision (ROD). Earlier planning studies and a partial Environmental Assessment, however, had previously identified the need for the project, all reasonable location alternatives, the ability of each alternative to satisfy the need, and impacts of each alternative upon the human and natural environments. The information developed during the preparation of these studies was particularly useful for consideration and incorporation into the official NEPA environmental review process.

Project development essentially began in 1990 when the Mississippi Legislature authorized the Mississippi Department of Transportation (MDOT) to construct a new bridge across the Pearl River from the City of Jackson to Airport Road (MS 475) at or near the entrance to the Jackson International Airport. Federal funding then became available for undertaking a feasibility study for the new bridge.

Pearl River Bridge Feasibility Study, Hinds and Rankin Counties

The initial federal funding resulted in the Pearl River Bridge Feasibility Study, Hinds and Rankin Counties, which was completed in March 1992. This study developed preliminary engineering and environmental analyses for three basic alternative routes across the Pearl River, encompassing a total of ten alignments for further study, and identified a preferred alternative between downtown Jackson and Old Brandon Road in the vicinity of Airport Road. The study concluded that the project should be a controlled access, interstate-type facility.

Pearl River Bridge / Airport Corridor: MS 25 Connector Feasibility Study

Upon completion of the Pearl River Bridge Feasibility Study, the City of Flowood and Rankin County expressed concern that the preferred alternative discussed in the study would not adequately address the current and growing traffic problems along MS 25 (Lakeland Drive) in Rankin County. As a result of their concern, MDOT amended the original project scope to include a new "northern" alignment connection from MS 25 to the preferred alternative developed in the initial study and FHWA concluded that the additional connector was consistent with the original legislative intent.

The resulting feasibility study analyzed six new alignments between the proposed Airport Parkway Connector and MS 25 near the northern end of the airport. The study concluded that a connector to MS 25 would be so successful at relieving congestion in western Rankin County that, if built, that connector would actually carry more traffic and relieve more congestion than the Airport Parkway Connector would. As a result of that study, the purpose and need evolved from one of primarily moving traffic between downtown Jackson and the airport to one of moving traffic between downtown Jackson and areas around and beyond the airport.

The study also concluded that a major interchange would be required at Flowood Drive (MS 468), located west of the point where the two separate connectors diverge. The need for a second interchange was also identified, although its exact location was not yet defined. The Pearl River Bridge / Airport Corridor: MS 25 Connector Feasibility Study was completed in April 1995.

Airport Parkway Feasibility Study, Hinds and Rankin Counties, Mississippi, Technical Memorandum

Whereas the 1992 feasibility study dealt only with the Airport Parkway Connector and the 1995 feasibility study addressed the MS 25 Connector in relation to the preferred alternative identified in the first study, the Airport Parkway Feasibility Study, Hinds and Rankin Counties, Mississippi Technical Memorandum, completed in November 1997, reanalyzed the Airport Parkway Connector project both with and without the MS 25 Connector included. This study was an effort to consolidate the findings of the two previous work efforts related to the total corridor. The goal was to perform a planning analysis of a series of alternatives and determine the two best overall alternatives for further study. A total of eight alternatives were studied, including three with the MS 25 Connector included, and a review of the environmental and community features was performed.

4-Lane Divided Connector Entrance Roadway to Jackson International Airport
Entrance to Jackson International Airport

Airport Parkway: Gulf Line Road Interchange, Technical Memorandum

Subsequent to the development of the alternatives studied in the Airport Parkway Feasibility Study, a decision was made by MDOT to do a more detailed analysis for the location of the Gulf Line Road interchange. This technical memorandum, which was completed in August 1998, was prepared to compare the use of one of the recommended alternatives, as well as three additional concepts in providing access to the proposed extension of Gulf Line Road. However, upon further discussions, MDOT reanalyzed the potential weaving and signing problems and incorporated modified traffic projections, which included corridor alignment extending to I-20.

NEPA EIS Process

Key Factors of the NEPA Process
  • Previous feasibility studies
  • Initiation of project as an EA
  • ISTEA funding
  • Interagency coordination
  • Proactive communication

Initial environmental studies pursuant to NEPA began for the project as an Environmental Assessment (EA) in the Fall of 1996, during the time that the Airport Parkway Feasibility Study, Hinds and Rankin Counties, Mississippi Technical Memorandum was being prepared. FHWA and MDOT sought input through the scoping process to assist in determining and clarifying issues relative to this project. Letters describing the proposed action and soliciting comments were sent to appropriate federal, state, and local agencies, and to private organizations and citizens who had previously expressed an interest in the proposal. A formal scoping meeting with federal, state, and local agencies, and other interested parties was held in late October 1996.

In December 1998, a decision was made by MDOT, FHWA, and the Airport Parkway Commission, an agency that was created to continue the momentum of the project, that the preparation of an EIS was appropriate. This determination was based on the extent of the impacts identified and some initial concerns raised by the Fish and Wildlife Service and the Environmental Protection Agency. The EA process that began more than two years earlier was never officially completed before initiating the EIS process, although a preliminary document had been prepared which was used as the base document for the EIS. The Army Corps of Engineers, the Fish and Wildlife Service, and the Mississippi Department of Wildlife Fisheries and Parks agreed to become cooperating agencies.

Key Agencies Involved in NEPA
  • Federal Highway Administration
  • Army Corps of Engineers
  • Fish and Wildlife Service
  • Mississippi DOT
  • Airport Parkway Commission
  • Hinds County
  • Rankin County
  • City of Flowood
  • City of Pearl
  • City of Jackson

The NEPA EIS process officially began with the issuance of a Notice of Intent in January 1999. A Draft EIS was approved only one month later in February 1999, followed by a Public Hearing in late April 1999. The Final EIS was then approved in September 1999 and, shortly thereafter, a ROD was issued in November 1999. Although the official EIS process took only 10 months to complete, the overall NEPA process, including the initial EA, took approximately 34 - 36 months. The actual EIS process was conducted on an accelerated schedule, largely due to the fact that all of the issues were addressed in the previous feasibility studies and preliminary EA, as well as a variety of other factors.

By the time the EIS process began, the resource agencies responsible for review of the document were already very familiar with the project, as they had been involved since the beginning of the preceding EA process. Resource agency personnel had been and continued to be involved in the studies, unofficially reviewing and approving portions of the documents that were related to their areas of potential effect. Incorporated into this aspect was the FHWA Division's strict ten-day review period limit on internal team reviews which has been in effect statewide for at least fifteen years.

"We were fortunate to have all the preliminary studies commissioned. This limited the possibilities for delay and friction."
–Richard Young, PBS&J

Another component that encouraged timely completion of the project's EIS review was the external support the project received. This element can be broken down into both general and financial support. The project's planning and developmental phases were strongly supported by National, State and Local political interests, the public, and the media. There was no organized opposition to the project. Nationally, the demonstrated high priority for the project shown by Congress and the availability of specified funds played a large role.

Organized Local Support
Airport Parkway Commission Members:
  • Mayor of Flowood
  • Mayor of Jackson
  • Mayor of Pearl

On the local level, the mayors of the three municipalities teamed together, thereby increasing the overall priority of the project. This group formed the Airport Parkway Commission in January 1995, well in advance of even beginning EA preparation. The Commission oversaw the project to ensure the momentum of the process. In addition, the formation of the Commission generated a large amount of positive publicity and exposure. The combination of the Commission itself, the use of newspaper articles, and public access to information from City Hall, MDOT, and MDOT's consultant, allowed the public to become well acquainted with the activities and provided them with ample opportunity to get involved.

Preferred Alternative

Project Snapshot
  • Four-lane limited access highway on new alignment
  • Airport connector
  • 9.3-mile project corridor
Source: PBS&J consultant

The Preferred Alternative included the construction of two new alignments, the Airport Parkway and the MS 25 Connector, along with minor improvements to connecting roadways. The Airport Parkway, which included a bridge across the Pearl River, begins at I-55 in Jackson and terminates at Old Brandon Road and Airport Road (MS 475), south of the airport. The MS 25 Connector begins at the proposed Airport Parkway at a point approximately 2.6 miles east of the western terminus of the Airport Parkway at I-55, and proceeds in a northeasterly direction to terminate at MS 25, north of the airport.

Additional access locations include a diamond interchange at Flowood Drive (MS 468) and a half cloverleaf type interchange at the proposed Gulf Line Road extension, a north-south roadway which, when complete, will connect MS 25 with US 80. There would also be access to and from the MS 25 Connector at the northern end of Airport Road (MS 475). A total of 14 locations would require the construction of bridges. Both limited access facilities include four travel lanes (two in each direction), forty-eight foot median areas and eight to ten foot inside and outside shoulders.

Map of Airport Parkway/MS 25 Connector Bridge Locations and Lengths
Map of Bridge Locations and Lengths

Together, the construction of these two facilities, along with minor improvements to connecting roadways, fully met existing and projected travel demand for the project area, while minimizing environmental impacts. In advance of preparing the EIS, the benefits of the Preferred Alternative and the limitations of other alternatives were already well established due to a detailed examination of all alternatives during the planning and Environmental Assessment phases.

Other Alternatives Considered

Aside from the Preferred Alternative, a variety of other alternative alignments were seriously considered during the course of the several feasibility studies prepared. The most recent overall feasibility study which addressed both connector facilities included a No Build alternative and seven new alignment alternatives. Based on MDOT's evaluation, the No Build Alternative would result in continued adverse operational impacts on the roadway system in the project area. Of the seven new alignments studied, including a Transportation System Management (TSM) and a Multi-Modal Alternative, four did not include a MS 25 Connector and three resulted in greater impacts than the Preferred Alternative. Due to their inability to address the full purpose and need, all of these other alternatives were presented in the EIS as ones that were considered and rejected.

Environmental and Other Issues

Summary of Environmental Issues
  • Commercial and residential relocations
  • Increases in noise levels
  • 100-year floodplain impacts
  • Loss of wetlands

There were several types of impacts associated with the Preferred Alternative as identified in the EIS. These included: the potential relocation of seven residences, two commercial structures, and one non-profit operation; noise level impacts at 16 residences; involvement with the 100-year floodplain; and loss of approximately 77 acres of wetlands. Of these issues, involvement with the 100-year floodplain and loss of wetlands were the most significant and represented the only areas of controversy on the project.

Although the proposed project would involve a crossing of the 100-year floodplain of the Pearl River, it would not result in a longitudinal encroachment of the floodplain. FHWA and MDOT were committed to a "zero-rise" policy and designed the new alignments to ensure that the area would continue to function at existing levels. Together, these steps satisfactorily addressed agency concerns.

Pearl River Mitigation Site Locations Map
Pearl River mitigation site locations.

In the case of wetlands, due to the need to cross the Pearl River and associated floodplain wetlands, no practicable alternatives exist that would entirely avoid wetland impacts. Although wetland impacts would total approximately 77 acres, MDOT worked to avoid wetlands whenever possible and to develop several mitigation alternatives to offset the losses. Under the Preferred Alternative, an estimated 13 acres of the affected wetlands would be bridged. The proposed measures satisfactorily addressed the concerns regarding wetland impacts.

Current Status

The project, which includes both the Airport Parkway and the MS 25 Connector segments, is currently under final design. The right-of-way acquisition process has not yet been initiated and, at this time, is in contract negotiations. All parties are hopeful that construction will begin by the end of 2003, depending on the availability of funding.

Lessons Learned

The Airport Parkway and MS 25 Connectors Project showed that despite some significant environmental issues, the NEPA EIS process can be completed in a timely manner by:

MDOT staff viewing the project area maps
Viewing the project with MDOT staff
  • Capitalizing on earlier studies to build momentum for the NEPA process,
  • Establishing a well-defined and effective public involvement strategy,
  • Promoting early and active interagency coordination, and
  • Obtaining political support at all levels.

These factors are discussed in detail below.

Capitalize on Earlier Studies to Build Momentum for the NEPA EIS Process

"A goodly bit of preparation was done prior to the decision to produce an EIS rather than an EA. Early and thorough coordination is a, if not the, valuable lesson, plus the good fortune that there were no delays due to unanticipated discoveries."
–E. Claiborne Barnwell, MDOT

The NEPA process for the Airport Parkway and MS 25 Connectors project in the counties of Hinds and Rankin, Mississippi was a well-organized and actively participated effort. The Draft and Final EIS documents were prepared and approved quickly and relatively smoothly due to the significant amount of work completed during the Environmental Assessment phase, as well as the substantial information available from the earlier feasibility studies. Spending adequate resources to prepare the necessary environmental analyses early on was a key factor in the success of the project.

Capitalizing on the earlier feasibility studies and the preliminary EA built the momentum for the EIS process to move quickly and smoothly by:

  • Preventing project delays due to unanticipated surprises/discoveries; and
  • Engaging key players that were critical to the NEPA process.

Establish a Well-Defined and Effective Public Involvement Strategy
Registration for the Public Hearing
Registration for the Public Hearing

The strategic and action plan for communications and community involvement was an asset to the project. Having clearly-defined goals, strategies, and responsibilities from the outset of the EIS process enabled FHWA and MDOT to deliver a community involvement program within the set budget, and achieve high levels of project recognition and approval of the program by residents. The use of feedback from local neighborhood residents provided the opportunity to receive input related to the public involvement program and project alternatives. The agencies learned that documenting public input and reporting back to the community on the implementation of residents' suggestions is critical to gaining their support. This gave residents the assurance that their input was seriously considered, and that they were part of the decision-making process.



Promote Early and Active Interagency Coordination

While there were no formal "streamlining" agreements negotiated specifically for this project, the early and active collaboration efforts between agencies indirectly included the elements of a formal agreement. The interagency coordination on all three levels (i.e., federal, state, and local) was a timely asset. For example, the three project area municipalities teamed with MDOT in creating the Airport Parkway Commission, which was designed to keep the project moving forward. They also successfully coordinated the project with the development of a new golf course, thereby avoiding the potential for any Section 4(f) impacts. Since the mayors were aware of both projects, the golf course property was aligned with the right-of-way needed for the highway expansion. Municipal coordination provided local cohesiveness and minimized potential delays.

"MDOT and FHWA tried to streamline the project development process by directly engaging resource agency personnel with responsibilities for potentially affected resources one on one, in person, early in the project development process and through its completion."
–E.Claiborne Barnwell, MDOT
–Cecil Vick, Jr., FHWA

Resource agencies were also very involved in the project development process, at least from the initiation of the EA studies, and helped to identify solutions to their own concerns. Those solutions, especially in terms of wetland protection and mitigation requirements, were incorporated into the EIS as firm commitments by MDOT.

Obtain Political Support at All Levels

From the outset, there had been strong Congressional support for the project, which elevated the overall visibility and priority of the project. There was also strong local support as well as media support for the project, with very little organized opposition.

References

Cecil Vick, Jr.
FHWA Mississippi Division
666 North Street, Suite 105
Jackson, MS 39202-3199
601-965-4215

E. Claiborne Barnwell
Mississippi Department of Transportation
P.O. Box 1850
Jackson, MS 39215
601-359-7920

Richard Young
PBS&J
4 River Bend Place, Suite 210
Jackson, MS 39208
601-936-7228

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