Every day, Mississippians take routes on their way to work or school without knowing the history behind the roads they travel on. This summer, the Mississippi Department of Transportation (MDOT) began a project in Leland on U.S. 82 with a history that dates back to the early 1900s.
U.S. 82 was built in 1932 to run across Mississippi stretching from the Mississippi River to the Alabama state line. The route intersected the Illinois Central Railroad, which paralleled Old Highway 61, in Leland. It was originally the Yazoo and Mississippi Valley Railroad until incorporated in 1882. Leland is the birthplace of Kermit the Frog and where his creator, renowned puppeteer Jim Henson, was raised.
Leland is known for its blues history with five Mississippi Blues Trail markers acknowledging the city’s influence in blues music. The city, with a population of approximately 5,000, is about five miles east of Greenville and nine miles east of the Mississippi River.
In 1935, an underpass was built to keep U.S. 82 vehicle traffic from interfering with the Illinois Central Railroad. U.S. 82 expanded to four lanes in the 1950s, and as a result, the railroad bridge was expanded.
To prevent the road from flooding during Mississippi’s heavy downpours, a pumping station was installed in the 1930s to drain rainwater. The station was rebuilt in the mid-1950s with poured concrete in an art-deco style, running 30 feet into the ground. Today, most of the pumps are from the mid-1950s but at least two of them came from the original 1930’s pumping station. Up until this month, the pump was still in use for traffic, removing rainwater when the road flooded.
In 1972, the Illinois Central Railroad merged with the Gulf, Mobile and Ohio Railroad to form the Illinois Central Gulf Railroad. Nearing the end of the railway’s use in the area, the Illinois Central Gulf Railroad was purchased by the Canadian National Railway. By the mid-2000s, use for the railroad over U.S. 82 ceased. Since then, the unused railroad bridge stood as local historic icon, but it became an issue for the traveling public and industry vehicles.
The clearance of the underpass was a major safety issue for wide loads, trucks and loggers who would occasionally lose a log at the top of their load to the railroad bridge. There was also an issue detouring large loads through the city of Leland on streets that weren’t designed to take the higher traffic. Additionally, the cost of maintaining a pumping station was high, and it required staffing every time it rained. It became a safety hazard and impediment to commerce placing a strain on maintenance funds and manpower.
In July of this year, MDOT began a project to remove the old underpass and build up the highway to remove the flooding issues. Crews have completed the removal of one side of the underpass and have begun the second half of the project. Once the new lanes are complete and U.S. 82 is no longer an underpass, the pumping station will be removed.
Despite its place as a local historic icon, the underpass’s removal is necessary for the safety of the public and efficiency of those traveling on an important thoroughfare like U.S. 82. The advancement in technology, and changes in industry and commerce require progress in transportation infrastructure for economic growth and development. The residents of Leland will be reminded of the underpass and its pumping station’s history as they drive over the new section of U.S. 82.
To learn more about this project and follow its progress, visit MDOTtraffic.com, download the MS Traffic App for iOS and Android, or dial 511.