Traffic

Mississippi highways are cracking up. Here’s why.

The Mississippi Transportation Department on Monday distributed this photo of a cracked highway in Forrest County. Transportation Commissioner Tom King of the Southern District said the Coast has fewer cracked roads than other parts of the state, but there are some areas with cracks on U.S. 49 south of Forrest County.
The Mississippi Transportation Department on Monday distributed this photo of a cracked highway in Forrest County. Transportation Commissioner Tom King of the Southern District said the Coast has fewer cracked roads than other parts of the state, but there are some areas with cracks on U.S. 49 south of Forrest County.

Drought is cracking highways in Mississippi.

“It’s a statewide problem,” said Jason Scott, a spokesman for the Mississippi Department of Transportation. “It’s not unique to one part of the state.”

Scott said he is not aware of any accidents caused by cracked highways, but the cracks can pose a driving hazard.

Maintenance crews are patching the worst cracks, but long-term repairs will have to wait until the state has some significant rainfall, MDOT says.

Mississippi soils contain several types of clay. They expand when wet and contract when dry.

“That shrinking creates a void between the clay and the earth, or asphalt, on top of that expansive clay,” Scott told the Sun Herald. “When traffic goes over it multiple times, that’s what creates the cracks. It’s not going to be a simple overlay. Once the drought ends, we’re going to have to assess the damage statewide.”

Permanent repairs will mean digging up bad sections of road to replace the dirt and asphalt overlay.

Southern District Transportation Commissioner Tom King said the worst problems are north of Hattiesburg, but there are some cracks south of Forrest County on U.S. 49.

Cracks are particularly bad on rural highways lined with trees. MDOT says a mature tree can absorb 100 gallons or more of water on a hot day.

King was relieved to see rain in the forecast for this week. He hopes it will help keep more asphalt from cracking.

Anita Lee: 228-896-2331, @calee99

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