After years of planning, the repair and renovation of Starkville's Blackjack Road is finally underway. This February, county supervisors selected the bid from Burns Dirt Construction, a Columbus-based, family-owned company with years of experience with both Oktibbeha County and Mississippi State University's campus.
According to Nic Parish, Burns' vice president of operations and contracting, construction technically started in late March with preliminary engineering, traffic control and erosion control. The work currently being done with utility markers and traffic barriers is the last step before formal construction begins.
Parish said the plan will be completed in two phases and will be a complete overhaul of the existing road. The first phase will reconstruct the road from Stone Boulevard to Hardy Road, including the roundabout, and add an additional lane on the north side.
Parish said once the first phase is complete, a temporary two-lane road will be added alongside the current Blackjack Road from Hardy Road to Bardwell Road past Aspen Heights. The current Blackjack Road will then be completely removed and replaced, and after completion, the temporary road will then be merged as an additional lane to the new Blackjack Road. Phase two of the project will most likely run through the fall.
Burns Dirt Construction will also create the foundation for a sidewalk from Hardy Road to Aspen Heights to allow for walking and biking traffic.
Parish believes the project is important due to the current safety concerns of the existing Blackjack Road.
"It is really a safety issue," Parish said. "Blackjack has always been narrow and dark with potholes. Not only has it caused a lot of damage to peoples' cars, but it has been a danger for so many years. It is important to fix the safety factor."
According to Parish, Burns Dirt Construction has worked to make sure that the road is not only safer but more efficient for the high amounts of traffic that pass through.
"With the third lane as a turn lane, it will be easier for people to get to and from classes, but also, when they eventually get the sidewalk done, you will be able to walk or ride a bike all the way from Aspen Heights to campus easily," Parish said. "The important part of the project is safety, but the road will be beautiful and much more efficient."
The project is a culmination of efforts from the county and the university. According to Bricklee Miller, Oktibbeha County supervisor and Mississippi Horse Park director, the project is a testament to the collaboration of the county and university.
"While working on the Blackjack Road project, several things are clear about the strong partnership between MSU and Oktibbeha County and how by working together we accomplish more," Miller said. "There are many things that connect communities, but roads are especially important. The progress on the Blackjack Road project continues to move us forward in a positive direction."
The renovation is welcomed by many of the students and citizens living off of the road, such as senior architecture major from Olive Branch, Mississippi Grace Sheridan. Sheridan believes the complete overhaul of the road is worthwhile, despite the time it will take.
"Blackjack is hazardous, especially driving at night or after the rain, so I think the plan to redo the road is the best way to deal with it," Sheridan said. "They can only patch it so much. The best way to repair a road is to do it right the first time. I think it is fine that it will take a little bit longer because it will be worth it."
Parish said he understands that construction, especially of roads, can be inconvenient. In an effort to keep the public informed, Parish and Burns aim to maintain an active social media presence.
"Our company is really accessible on social media, and we are trying to give updates there. We want to communicate with people because the biggest part of construction is people complaining, 'Why are they doing this?' or, 'Why is this taking so long?', and we want to be accessible to answer questions and keep people and our workers safe," Parish said. "We want everybody to understand the project because we know it is right at everybody's front door, and everyone will be watching it and be ready for it to be over."
For updates on the Blackjack Road construction project, visit @burnsdirt on Instagram.