Thursday, January 27, 2005

Minor updates highway plans


Highway improvements and interstates are coming to Marshall County and surrounding areas.

Bill Minor, Northern District transportation commissioner, spoke to the Holly Springs Rotary Club January 12 and mentioned a host of projects.

“Our main job is to maintain the roads that we have,” Minor said, “and we’re doing more work to maintain our roads than we used to.”

He referred to Vision 21, which he said will take over where the 1987 Highway Program left off. He said all projects under the 1987 Highway Program in the Northern District are either completed or under contract.

Vision 21 is a needs-based highway program. It is a $3.6 billion, pay-as-you-go highway proposal to upgrade existing highways or build new ones where they are needed most with no new taxes for the public. The legislation, passed in April 2002, reauthorizes funding for the four-lane highway construction program at a level that gradually increases to $200 million a year by fiscal year 2006.

Minor said the four-laning of Highway 7 is in the first phase, with the portion from Oxford to Greenwood first on the priority list. The stretch from Oxford to Holly Springs would come next.

“We have to wait until we get the money,” Minor said.

Beginning this year, the Vision 21 bill requires MDOT to analyze the capacity of the highway system and report the results to the legislature once a year thereafter. This means Vision 21 will remain flexible and can accommodate changes in traffic patterns such as those caused by unexpected economic development.

“Highways are so important to all of us,” said Minor, who has just completed his first year on the job after serving many years as a successful and powerful state senator.

“First and foremost, we build roads for safety, but they also bring economic development, and they’re important for economic development, too.”

Signs are in place on Highway 78, designating it as Future I-22 Corridor.

“Once it is tied to an interstate on either end, it will become an interstate,” Minor said.

Approximately $80 million must be spent on I-22 in North Mississippi to get it up to interstate standards. Half of that, $40 million, will be spent on an interchange in New Albany.

Extra footage will be added on each side of the road, with more on the right shoulder to leave room for vehicles to pull off.

“We’ve talked to the folks in Birmingham (Alabama) and it will be five years before it is tied to I-65,” Minor said.

He said Mississippi might finish I-269 which will tie in to Highway 78 (I-22) before then.

MDOT will let the contract for the first part of I-69 from Hernando to Highway 61 in February, a $41 million project which will take two years to complete.

The route for I-269 through Marshall County has been finalized, he said. It will cross Highway 78 (I-22) near the Marshall-DeSoto line, running about a quarter-mile west of the town limits on Highway 178, cross Hwy. 309 North with an exit ramp between Peachtree and Schoolhouse roads, then run parallel to 309 up to the Chickasaw Trails area. Minor said it will tie into Highway 385 just outside of Collierville.

Minor said he hopes some “innovative financing approved by the feds” will move the project along, particularly the portion from highways 385 to 78.

Another project in the works is the completion of the Holly Springs bypass to tie in to 78 at the West Holly Springs exit. A portion of the bypass from near the hospital to Holly Springs Funeral Home is completed.

He said grade, drainage and bridge work should proceed in the near future.

“The bypass will help Holly Springs,” Minor said. “We will route these big trucks around the city.”

Minor said MDOT is also involved with Tennessee transportation officials in scheduling the further four-laning of Highway 72 from the Mt. Pleasant area on to Collierville.

“It really needs to be done,” he said. “It will be a lot safer.”

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