By Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal
JACKSON – Funds for four-laning Highway 9 north of the Toyota plant at Blue Springs have survived efforts to kill the project, but the issue could still be revived.
The Senate killed the bill that would have removed the $40 million in bonds for the project, but Rep. Nick Bain, D-Corinth, said bills are alive that could be amended to strip the funds.
“We have to watch what comes out of conference,” said Bain, referring to the process where House and Senate leaders try to work out differences in legislation.
Four-laning Highway 9 both south and north of the Toyota plant was pushed by former Gov. Haley Barbour as a method to attract Toyota suppliers to the area. Work is advancing on the southern portion in Pontotoc County, but the northern portion has been mired in controversy.
The issue has split members of the Northeast Mississippi delegation.
Rep. Steve Holland, D-Plantersille, questioned the wisdom of improving a transportation route north of the plant to help lure Toyota suppliers to the Alcorn County area when there already is a four-laned route on U.S. highways 45 and 78.
But legislators from Alcorn, Tishomingo and Prentiss counties said the route is needed because of the importance Toyota places on suppliers being able to make quick deliveries.
Rep. William Tracy Arnold, R-Booneville, said the next step is to use a small portion of the $40 million to do an environmental study on a possible new route while also considering options other than a controlled access four-lane highway. Even many of the supporters of the project believe it would not be financially viable since all agree it would cost far more than the dedicated $40 million.
“We might need a two-lane heavy use road,” Arnold said.
In an earlier interview, Gary Chandler, president of the Alliance, the economic development organization for Corinth and Alcorn County, said, “We all understand the funding challenges with the project … We know it won’t happen overnight. We are willing to work on it over time.”