Craft Road project

The Road Closed sign greets drivers trying to head north on Craft Road near the Lewisburg school complex. County officials are urging drivers to stay away from the area while crews work to complete the current project before primary election day on Aug. 6.

Intersection improvements on Craft Road in DeSoto County that’ll eventually lead to a widened road toward the Lewisburg schools have been delayed by two things this summer: rain and drivers going around the barriers.

The DeSoto County Board of Supervisors has met twice during the summer to address project delays. Thursday morning the board met again in an emergency meeting on the project to add turning lanes at Craft and Bethel roads and also get Craft Road north of the Lewisburg schools ready for widening to a five-lane road surface. That part of the project is currently in the right-of-way phase while the intersection improvements and turning lanes are now being done.

When completed, there will be improved sight distance for drivers at the Craft/Bethel intersection. The goal is to have the intersection done before Aug. 5, but it will remain with two lanes open at first.

Board members approved change orders to allow the work being done to continue beyond the scheduled July 31 end date. Patton Construction is the contractor for the project, valued at about $1.3 million.

“We had an emergency meeting to get a change order so we can do some soil stabilization done to speed up the process,” said Assistant County Engineer Scott Young. “We intend to have it passable before Aug. 6. The board is 100 percent committed. They were all in, put it as a top project and they want all of our resources put on it. The only thing they can’t control is the weather.”

Aug. 6 now becomes the most important date of the summer as far as the Craft Road project is concerned. That, of course, is the much-anticipated primary election day in Mississippi, and Lewisburg High School is a polling location. The next day, Aug. 7, is the first day for classes at Lewisburg and the rest of DeSoto County Schools. Traffic is expected to be heavy both days in that particular area.

What has happened, Young explained, is that the combination of rain and drivers going around barriers and into the construction zone has caused a big delay in the Craft Road completion.

“We had it set up to start when school ended in May and then to be completed by the time school started,” Young said. “We’ve been hammered with rain more than ever in June and July, so we had a lot of problems with the soil. Every time they get it dried out, we’d get a 2-3 inch rain and you have to start the process over again.”

“They install it, they compact it, they do a test on it and it passes,” added County Administrator Vanessa Lynchard. “But then we get another rain, you ride on it and it turns soft.”

To combat that, the board has put out the plea to the driving public to stay out of the Craft Road area and not to drive around the barriers until the work is done. To put teeth into the plea, the Sheriff’s Department will have deputies in the area and the Department of Road Management will also be watching the area for unauthorized people who travel past the barriers.

The residents in the construction zone will still be able to get to-and-from their homes, Lynchard said.

“There are just a handful of houses that do have to travel in that spot and that’s the reason they put up barriers rather than something more permanent so the people who live there can get through,” Lynchard said. “But what’s happening is other people are moving the barriers and driving. They can’t do that. We know the people who live there need to get through, but the general public cannot drive that road until it’s finished.”

Craft Road is a heavily-traveled roadway between the Lewisburg schools, nearby homes and Olive Branch. But county officials state the project can be done quicker if two things are done: Mother Nature takes a break from the rain and you stay off the road.

Bob Bakken is Managing Editor of the DeSoto Times-Tribune.