Highway 49 Improvement Project Underway

They're removing pine trees, adding shoulders and improving drainage. After years of planning... construction has begun on a Highway 49 improvement project.

The work zone covers five miles between Saucier and McHenry.  And much of the project involves safety concerns.

Prepare for many months of orange barrel driving on busy Highway 49.

Construction crews are already busy moving dirt and clearing land. Much of the project is aimed at improving travel on the southbound lanes. A series of hills will eventually be leveled to increase safety. Plans also include adding shoulders to the southbound side.

Terri Torries' driveway adjoins southbound 49.

"It'll be very nice to have a shoulder. My driveway is very hard to get off of. So a shoulder there would be very nice," said Torries.

One of the most visible signs of the road improvement project is also among the most talked about. Work crews are taking down hundreds of pine trees in the median. Drivers who frequently travel that stretch of Highway 49 welcome the improved visibility that comes with taking down the trees.

"I agree with it. It's certainly not worth having somebody get hit by a car that they don't see coming. And actually my husband works at the emergency room and he sees plenty of accidents," said Katie Stonnington of Stone County.

Traffic on Highway 49 has increased dramatically since the Pecan House opened some 20 years ago. And those who run the business are well aware of the safety concerns on the busy highway.

"There is always an accident. At least two or three a weekend. Somebody's run off the road and hit a pine tree. We hear ambulances all the time around here," explained store manager, Jessica Bartlett.

The sound of construction equipment will be around for many months. This phase of Highway 49 improvements won't be finished until late next year.

Expect a major detour on that section of Highway 49 beginning in mid to late October. That's when traffic will be reduced to two lanes on the northbound side, to allow work crews access to both southbound lanes.