Thursday, March 17, 2005

House bill includes Hwy. 78 upgrades

A transportation bill that includes funds for major highway projects in north Mississippi won overwhelming approval in the U.S. House of Representatives Thursday, U.S. Rep. Roger Wicker said.

The money is contained in the reauthorization of the Transportation Equity Act, a measure first enacted in 1998. The package is designed to modernize the nation’s transportation system, reduce highway fatalities, ease congestion, and boost economic development. The bill also allocates money from the Highway Trust Fund to the 50 states for existing projects and new transportation initiatives. This legislation would cover a term of six years.

“I am pleased we were able to provide resources to continue work on projects that will make travel safer and create more job opportunities in north Mississippi,” Rep. Wicker said.

Wicker, a member of the Appropriations Committee, said he expected to secure additional highway funds for Mississippi this year during the regular appropriations process.

North Mississippi projects include:

  • $6 million for upgrades along U.S. Highway 78 to help bring the roadway to interstate standards. The highway was designated future Interstate 22 in legislation passed in 2003 and will officially become I-22 when it is linked to Interstate 65 in Alabama.   Improvements include widening shoulders and exits in some areas, installing medians and fencing.
  • $2 million for work on Starlanding Road in DeSoto County. The project includes construction of six miles of roadway at the new Interstate 55 interchange connecting Getwell Road to the east and Tulane Road to the west.
  • The new Interstate 69, which will run through northwest Mississippi, has been designated to be part of the national highway system and is eligible for additional money in the authorization. Specific funding levels will be determined when the House and Senate bills are reconciled in a conference committee later this year. Rep. Wicker said Transportation Committee Chairman Don Young expressed strong support for I-69 when Young visited Memphis and toured portions of the future highway route last year.
  • $4 million for construction on Highway 45 Bypass in Columbus. The work would ease congestion along a 6.9 mile stretch that currently handles 27,000 vehicles per day, and that number is projected to rise to 42,000 by 2020.
  • $4 million to continue four-laning Highway 6 between Pontotoc and Tupelo. When completed, the project will provide an important four-lane link from Batesville to Tupelo to the Alabama state line.

Kyle Steward, in Wicker’s Tupelo office, said the Senate is working through its bill and is expected to follow with approval.

“This is one of the bills that is of high priority for every member of Congress,” Steward said. “It will move.”

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