Through funding from the Great American Outdoors Act’s Legacy Restoration Fund and Federal Highway Administration’s National Significant Federal Lands and Tribal Projects Program, the National Park Service will receive approximately $130.6 million to rehabilitate 83 miles of Natchez Trace Parkway in Mississippi.
The parkway was first paved starting in 1949, and much of the original pavement remains in place. This project will improve pavement conditions on the roadway, providing a smoother and safer surface for motorists.
The project will span the roadway from Milepost 121 to 204 comprising Webster, Choctaw, Attala, Leake and Madison counties.
An initial investment of approximately $86.3 million from GAOA was effectively used to leverage an additional $54.3 million in NSFLTP grants, maximizing the benefit of these once-in-a-generation investments in transportation infrastructure.
“The funding we’ve received from the Great American Outdoors Act and Nationally Significant Federal Lands and Tribal Projects Program will offer park visitors a smooth and safe ride while maintaining access to the scenery, history and recreational opportunities of the park. The project will create more construction jobs and promote tourism in the local communities,” said Natchez Trace Parkway Superintendent Douglas Neighbor. “We thank our long-standing partners at the Federal Highway Administration for this grant.”
The NPS and FHWA are working on the preliminary engineering for the project, which will include pavement maintenance, repair and replacement. Audible traffic markers and a pavement safety edge will be installed to improve safety. Culverts and bridges will be repaired or replaced.
The work will require detours around the phased construction zones, which will impact motorists and bicyclists using the parkway. In addition, access to interpretive and picnic sites and trails may be limited.
This fall, the FHWA plans to solicit a Request for Proposals, and design work will begin once a contract is awarded. Construction is expected to start in September 2023 and be completed in October 2027.
Because of the overall length of the construction project and differing techniques of reconstruction or reclamation of the roadway, the project will have many phases. The park will engage the community throughout the process and all phasing of the construction and detours will be communicated to visitors and communities along the parkway.
The Natchez Trace Parkway serves as a major commuter and recreational hub for thousands of residents of rural Mississippi communities as well as the Jackson Metropolitan area. In 2021, 6.4 million park visitors spent an estimated $178 million in local gateway regions while visiting Natchez Trace Parkway.
These expenditures supported a total of 2,100 jobs, $68.9 million in labor income, $108 million in value added and $198 million in economic output in local gateway economies surrounding Natchez Trace Parkway, the seventh-most visited National Park Service facility in the nation.
“Through President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, we’re now modernizing more of the infrastructure that creates opportunity in tribal communities,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg. “Today, we’re proud to award over $54 million to resurface, restore, and rehabilitate over 80 miles of the Natchez Trace Parkway in Mississippi, making it safer and more resilient for all those who rely on it.”
“Millions of visitors travel along the Natchez Trace Parkway each year and support economic activity in the surrounding areas,” said Acting Federal Highway Administrator Stephanie Pollack. “The grant we’re providing to the National Park Service will bring safer travel and better access to recreational opportunities and natural and cultural resources along this parkway and help create good-paying construction jobs to get the work done.”
The BIL made significant changes to the Nationally Significant Federal Lands and Tribal Project program by increasing annual authorizations from $100 million to $355 million and ensuring tribal transportation facilities receive 50% of the appropriated funds. Critically, tribes can apply for funding at 100% federal share with no matching requirement, a historic barrier for tribal access to infrastructure funding.
The program provides federal funding for construction, reconstruction or rehabilitation of multimodal transportation facilities that are situated within, adjacent to or provide access to federal or tribal lands. A project of national significance is typically a higher-cost project that federal land management agencies and tribal governments cannot normally afford to build because the project would exhaust their financial resources. The project is also considered important to the well-being of the area where the project is located and surrounding community, supports safe access to popular recreation destinations such as national parks or provides critical transportation support for hospitals and schools on tribal lands.
The Federal Highway Administration has worked closely with the National Park Service to improve infrastructure in and around national parks such as the Natchez Trace Parkway for decades. That partnership has grown since the 2020 passage of the Great American Outdoors Act, which provided funding to improve and expand recreation opportunities in national parks and other public lands.
GAOA, the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and other construction funding sources are part of a concerted effort to address the extensive maintenance backlog in national parks.
Supported by revenue from energy development, GAOA’s Legacy Restoration Fund provides up to $1.3 billion per year for five years to make significant enhancements in national parks to ensure their preservation and provide opportunities for recreation, education and enjoyment for current and future visitors.