Plans for widening Martin Bluff Road — one of the city’s crucial thoroughfares — have been around since 1991, long before Gautier annexed the area it runs through.
“It’s been going on so long, people talk about how long people have been talking about it,” one city worker said.
Before the road was part of the city, Jackson County was buying up rights of way to widen it. The county knew it was a major residential road, but when Gautier annexed areas to the north in 2002, it took over those plans.
It is still not wider, even though a sign announces an $11.65 million road-widening project will be complete by mid-2016. City officials, however, say it is coming. Construction is now estimated to begin in 2018.
Martin Bluff Road runs six miles from Gautier-Vancleave Road past Martin Bluff Elementary and under Interstate 10 to the Hickory Hill Resort and golf course. It passes many apartment complexes and subdivisions.
The narrow road has become impossible to maneuver at times, residents say.
“You don’t get on this road between 2:30 and 3 p.m.,” said Tracey Devereux, who lives off Martin Bluff Road and drives it every day. “And at 4 p.m. — when the industries get off work — you’d better stay home.
“Where is the city on that project? What have they done with that money?”
The project is still on. It just doesn’t look like it, because all the work is being done behind the scenes in the form of right-of-way acquisition that began in 2015.
April Havens, a grant writer for the city, said Gautier is buying properties to make way for the widening.
The city has 30 of the 45 parcels it needs to buy. Some are vacated and demolition could be complete by summer. Then the city can go out for bids for construction that will make Martin Bluff three lanes — turn lanes and a boulevard.
A consultant on the project said construction should take about 18 months.
The letter to advertise for bids from MDOT is dated February 2018, so Havens said it could be well into 2019 or even 2020 before the project is complete.
The sign promises a wider road with lighting and a broad multi-use sidewalk to run along its north side.
Mayor Gordon Gollott said Martin Bluff is one of the most important roads in the city. It extends to Hickory Hill, one of the city’s fastest-growing communities.
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The project has been shortened, however. Only about two miles will be widened — from Gautier-Vancleave Road to Martin Bluff Elementary. An overlay will be from the school to I-10.
Soon after the 2002 annexation, Gollott said, the city had hoped to widen it all the way to Hickory Hill, but the cost to do that has steadily increased, he said.
The city will need more funding just to finish the two miles.
This is the largest land acquisition for a road project the city has undertaken. Jackson County widened Ladnier Road before Gautier became a city.
With Martin Bluff Road, it can be discouraging, because people haven’t seen any progress.
“There’s so much that has to happen before you get those first visual cues that something is actually happening,” Havens said. “When they see those houses being demolished, they’ll know they’re really going to get a wider road with a nice sidewalk.”