Highway 26 between Central and Benndale may be reopened to traffic later this week, weather permitting, according to MDOT Dist. 6 Engineer Kelly Castleberry. Paving equipment was slated to move onto the project site Monday or Tuesday. It is anticipated paving work could be completed by the end of the week and the road would be reopened to traffic weeks ahead of the contract schedule.

The repairs became necessary when an approximate 50 foot wide and 30-foot-deep section of the road collapsed and washed away during a heavy thunderstorm at about 10 p.m. on August 30. The road washout occurred as Hurricane Ida was moving through the area, dumping more than 11 inches of rain.

Water saturated soils gave way and seven vehicles plunged into the resulting chasm before traffic could be stopped on the heavily travelled two-lane highway. Three people died because of the collapse with nine others suffering severe to minor injuries as vehicles piled on top of one another.

The Mississippi Department of Transportation (MDOT) awarded a $1.8 million emergency contract to T.L. Wallace Construction, of Columbia, on Thursday, October 7. Wallace Construction was to have the road back open to traffic by December 10.

“Our engineers surveyed the damage and worked with geotechnical experts and were able to determine the most efficient plan of action,” said Commissioner Tom King, Southern Transportation District in an earlier interview.

MDOT’s design includes the use of a drainage blanket, this means the contractor will install geotextile fabric, bring rock in and install a perforated pipe in order to capture the groundwater in the area. They will then place additional rock over that and layer additional geotextile fabric over it. Soil will be placed on top of the geotextile fabric, along with a rock base and 8 inches of asphalt.

“MDOT expedited everything according to this project, based on accumulating information, to design, to getting ready to let a contract and then to have a contractor come in and do the work expeditiously, that’s what our goal is,” said Castleberry in a statement when the project was awarded.

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