Thursday, October 26, 2005
Officials talk transportation, celebrate road projects
By SUE WATSON
Officials with the Mississippi Department of Transportation, the local delegation and Marshall County officials met last week to discuss transportation needs and to celebrate the opening of two new bridges on South Red Banks Road in District 4.
Meeting first to talk about how to fund railroad overpasses at Byhalia and Potts Camp, the group bantered about the subject of long traffic delays caused by trains blocking the tracks from Byhalia to Tupelo and beyond.
The delays at railroad crossings raise safety concerns for fire, ambulance and law enforcement, they said.
Bill Minor, commissioner for the northern district of Mississippi Department of Transportation, said routes connecting prospective overpasses would need to be studied.
Jimmy Dickerson, district engineer with MDOT, advised that lots of data would have to be gathered to move railroad overpasses to the top of MDOT’s priority list. Accident histories and traffic delays at railroad crossings would be needed, he said, “because it would take a lot of money to do that.”
Bill Renick, with the county Industrial Development Authority, asked if the money for studies could be raised with bonding authority funds.
“They (state elected officials) are not going to do that,” Minor said.
County consultant Gary Anderson asked if a time study would be needed.
“You’d have to do that and go to Washington and get some earmarks,” Minor said.
The earmarks are federal dollars that would be set aside by the U.S. Congress.
Minor said traffic has picked up on the railroads and Tupelo is experiencing heavy traffic with trains coming through town about eight hours out of every 24 hours. Eighteen to 20 more trains are moving over the tracks in Tupelo, he said.
“It will be the same number in Byhalia and Potts Camp,” said supervisor Ronnie Joe Bennett.
Minor added that two railroad tracks come together in Tupelo; that trains are not supposed to stop and stay as long as they do.
But getting better cooperation with railroad transportation officials and federal regulators is not an easy task for local and state officials, he said.
“I’ve not met anybody who can talk to them this side of the Lord,” he said.
Bennett argued that traffic tickets do not solve a railroad car problem.
“I’ve gotten the same response if I call the railroad inspector about too much time and delay,” Minor said. “I can’t get anybody who can talk to them. We had a deputy take an engineer to jail but it didn’t get Marshall County anywhere.”
He said the feds and federal regulations override state regulations with regard to railways.
“The only way to do this is to build a crossing over the tracks,” Minor said.
Supervisor Keith Taylor asked if traffic studies and police reports would help get funding for railway overpasses; that the town of Byhalia has built a second fire station north of the tracks to protect the schools.
“I think they could stop and move that train out of the way every few minutes or so,” said Minor. “That would help a lot.”
Important data would include fire and ambulance service delays at Potts Camp and Byhalia.
After officials had lunch served by Sheriff Kenny Dickerson, the local delegation was asked to think about asking the state legislators for local and private legislation allowing a small sales tax to help pay delinquent (uncollectible) garbage bills in both incorporated and unincorporated areas over the county.
Larry Hall, county administrator, said only a small tax would be needed to pay for the delinquent garbage collection bills.
“I want to pass that to the delegation,” he said. “It would eliminate having to go back and make landowners pay for uncollectible bills. It would really make life easier next July or August at budget time.”
“It would be a savings because we increase the tax levy three or four mills to collect unpaid (garbage) bills,” Taylor said.
“Everybody would be levied,” said Rep. Kelvin Buck.
“We don’t have the luxury towns have of (owning) utility companies (to collect the bill),” said Taylor.
“We need to figure out what percent tax it takes,” said Rep. Tommy Woods.
“It’s just a thought,” said Hall. “It would cut out billing for the cities and the county. The tax would pay for the garbage collections countywide. Customers would not pay.”
Minor said the tax measure would have to be applied statewide in all 82 counties or the legislature would not pass it, based on his previous knowledge as a senator.
“That ain’t going to happen,” he said. “You could put it on the tourism tax. I don’t think they will let it be put on the sales tax unless all counties in Mississippi are allowed to do it.”
“We need to work on it for statewide,” Hall said.
“The problem exists in all 82 counties,” Renick said.
“They might pass it for 82 counties, but they are not going to pass it just for Marshall County,” Minor said.
After this discussion officials travelled to South Red Banks Road in District 4 for a ribbon-cutting ceremony at the two new bridges.
The bridges, paid for with state legislative bridge replacement (LSBP) program funds and state aid road money, were built for $950,000.
“I am so thankful to get this bridge in cost-free to the local taxpayers,” said District 4 supervisor George Zinn III at the ribbon cutting.
Other road and bridge projects in progress in the county and paid for with state funds include the Coldwater River Bridge replacement project on Red Banks Road, the Cayce Road overlay project in Taylor’s district, and the soil cement and crushed rock improvements on Hernando Road beginning at Red Banks Road and going west to Highway 309 in Flemon’s district.
Supervisor Willie Flemon said last week as he visited the Hernando Road project, “I am so proud of it, I don’t know what to do. I know the people are, too.”
The improvements on Hernando Road include widening as well as paving the road, ditch, grade and drainage improvements, seeding, and shoulder widening, all to make the road safer and to improve visibility and reduce long-term maintenance costs.
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