Thursday, June 30, 2011
‘Highway for tomorrow’
By SUE WATSON
The long-awaited groundbreaking for the first segment of I-269 in Mississippi drew a large crowd of dignitaries, elected officials and others.
It was held Thursday at the corner of Mt. Carmel Road and Highway 302.
When completed, I-269 will form a 30-mile eastern bypass around Memphis through Tennessee and Mississippi. The route will relieve congestion on the I-69/I-55 corridor and efficiently connect I-40 and I-55 through North Mississippi. I-40 is a major cross-country freight route, and I-69 is being developed as an international connector from Mexico to Canada through Mississippi.
Victor Mendez, federal highway administrator, helped celebrate the three miles of interstate to be built from the Tennessee line to the Chickasaw Trail Industrial Park and Highway 302. The three-mile segment is expected to be completed in 2014.
He said the groundbreaking was held on the Mississippi side in Marshall County as a community event for the state.
Tanner Construction of Mississippi has the construction bid, which will direct $19.5 million for clearing, bridge construction and drainage, according to Melinda McGrath, executive director of the Mississippi Department of Transportation. The construction of I-269 from the Tennessee line to I-55 will be conducted in four phases and each phase will be opened as it is completed. Paving of the three miles will be bid separately, she said.
Bryan Childs, of the Holly Springs office of MDOT, is overseeing this segment of the work, she said.
Officials praised the project as a partnership between the public and private sector and between local, state and federal agencies.
HELP bonds provided by Marshall and Desoto county boards of supervisors were cited as an integral part of this project, as well as leadership from the local and state delegations.
Mike Tagert, transportation commissioner for the Northern District, said the construction of I-269 is going “to transform the region” by connecting communities and neighbors locally and will have far-reaching international implications.
“It is more than just a Memphis bypass,” he said.
The connector will promote economic development and create jobs, he said.
He thanked Marshall and DeSoto counties for “work on the front end” that made the project possible.
“Today, we do not have an understanding of what this will mean.
“It is going to transform in a very positive way, the way we live,” Tagert said. “It will be far, far-reaching in application and well beyond being able to move a truck from point A to point B.”
House Speaker Billy McCoy was one Mississippian credited with the vision to improve the highway systems of the state with the passage of the 1987 Highway Improvement Act.
He cited the importance of transportation in the economy of the state and region.
“Thirty years ago, Mississippi was not even the status quo,” McCoy said. “Then people began to realize we had to work together for education, health, public safety and transportation. The 1987 Highway Act blazed a new trail. Now Mississippi competes with the best in the nation.”
Included in this vision was a trip Chip Morgan, with the Delta Council, and McCoy made to northwest Mississippi. McCoy marked on an existing state map in pen a drawing which years later became Mississippi Highway 302. That highway is now a critical link in the transportation sector in DeSoto and Marshall counties that has spurred tremendous development. It is now extended to the Chickasaw Trail Industrial Park where it will connect with future I-269.
“It is good to have private citizens here today,” McCoy said. “Nothing moves forward without public and private sectors joined together.”
U.S. DOT commissioner Mendez, serving as the 18th federal highway commissioner, noted the auspicious groundbreaking ceremony was overseen by a hawk hovering in the sky when Rep. Tommy Woods sang the National Anthem.
I-269 will not only connect the local communities’ economies but the entire United States, he said.
“Everything you do is extremely important to what we do today,” he said.
Routine highway maintenance must be supplemented with new construction, he said.
“It’s about building a highway for tomorrow,” Mendez said. “It’s about the future. It’s a big deal.”
Before leaving the podium he asked everyone to support the distracted driving initiative at U.S. DOT by putting away their cell phones when driving and by buckling seatbelts and driving safely.
State Rep. Warner McBride said the United States and Mississippi are at a transportation crossroads.
“It’s time to build new systems and repair existing ones,” he said.
He repeated a quote from Mendez, “We must outbuild, out-innovate the rest of the world to compete for the future.”
Without HELP bonds, the I-69 segment would not be open from I-55 to Tunica or from Tennessee to the Chickasaw Trail, he said.
“The HELP bond is the most innovative initiative in this county,” McBride said. “Many types of supports are needed to build the transportation sector, public/private partnerships, HELP bonds, tolls – every tool that is available to us to continue to improve the transportation system.”
The I-69 will connect north to south while the four-laning of Highway 6 West from Batesville to Clarksdale will help develop the east/west route, he said.
Many local elected officials participated in the groundbreaking ceremony.
Circuit clerk Lucy Carpenter was proud to be at the groundbreaking.
“We can’t imagine what this is going to mean to the state and this part of Marshall County,” she said. “I just hope I’m around long enough to see what happens. I wish Bill Minor (recently deceased commissioner of the Northern District) could have been here to see this.”
Supervisor Keith Taylor has to take the bitter with the sweet.
“The only part of I-269 that comes through Marshall County is in my district (3),” he said. “I know a lot of people have been inconvenienced in my district, including me. It’s a good thing economically for the county, but it is a burden for people in my district who have had their way of life uprooted (had to sell their homes). But this is a federal project that affects people all over the country and the world.”
Following the groundbreaking ceremony, local officials walked over the Mt. Carmel Road for a ribbon cutting. All guests were invited to go to H.W. Byers cafeteria to have a catfish lunch prepared by Sheriff Kenny Dickerson and his cooking team.
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