CATEGORY: USA Federal Government
HED: Agency close to nailing down final southern route of Trace
By Marty Russell
A decision on the location of the southern terminus of the Natchez Trace Parkway could come after this month but none of the three alternatives under consideration would provide direct access to an intermodal visitors center and historical park as originally hoped.
The parkway currently is in a 30-day “no-action” period to allow any final input into a plan that will be presented to the regional director of the National Park Service in early November. Once one of three alternatives is approved, design and engineering work can begin on what will likely be the final segment of the 445-mile parkway.
The three alternatives under consideration include doing nothing and ending the Trace where it currently ends by building an interchange with U.S. Highway 84/98. That alternative, however, would actually be illegal, according to Gary Mason, natural resources specialist at the parkway’s headquarters in Tupelo.
Mason said the park service is under a congressional mandate to build the road from the Natchez city limits to the Nashville city limits.
“That’s still several miles out of town,” Mason said of the Trace’s current location. “We’d have to get an exception from Congress.”
The second alternative would involve following original plans and bringing the parkway about 3.8 miles further from its current point to connect with Seargent Prentiss Drive.
The preferred alternative by the park service is to extend the parkway about four miles from its current location to connect with Liberty Road.
“There are eight parkway design criteria and one is to try and avoid built-up areas,” said Mason. “We want to avoid traffic congestion that affects traffic on the parkway and on the crossing road and at the entry and exit points.”
Since the Seargent Prentiss Drive terminus was originally pinpointed for the entry point of the Trace into Natchez several years ago, development has grown up in the area, Mason said, including a new high school and a Wal-Mart near where the Trace would terminate.
“There would have to be a traffic light there and there are already two traffic lights a short distance from each other so that would slow traffic down,” he said.
The preferred route would take the Trace through an area that includes industrial, commercial and residentially zoned properties. However, Mason said most of the property and buildings in the area are vacant.
“We would likely have more room and the traffic volume would be lower,” he said of the Liberty Road terminus.
Terminus or not?
While parkway officials consider this the final stop in the 60-year history of construction of the project, Natchez and Adams County officials want the parkway extended all the way to the Mississippi River bluffs.
Natchez Mayor Larry “Butch” Brown could not be reached for comment Monday but both he and the Adams County Board of Supervisors have expressed disappointment that the parkway will not terminate at the site of a new Visitor Reception and Intermodal Transportation Center that links visitors to historic Natchez landmarks.
Original plans called for using an Illinois Central Gulf Railroad corridor through the city to reach the new visitors center via the Natchez Trace. But the railroad declined to abandon the roadbed and the cost of purchasing the property is prohibitive.
While expressing disappointment, Brown, in a July 3 letter to Natchez Trace Superintendent Wendell Simpson, backed the Liberty Road proposal.
“This alternative will help achieve the future goal of the city to bring the parkway to a final terminus point at the new Visitor (Center) and Natchez National Historical Park,” Brown wrote.
The Adams County Board of Supervisors, in a July 6 letter, was more blunt.
“Adams County, as well as the city of Natchez, hopes to ultimately have the parkway terminate at the river where it began,” wrote Virginia Salmon, vice president of the board.
Meanwhile work continues on completing the remaining approximately 20 miles of the parkway, all in Mississippi. A $4 million contract to construct two bridges near Jackson was awarded last week. One bridge will span Highland Colony Parkway in Ridgeland while the other will include a previously unplanned interchange at U.S. Highway 49 near Clinton.
No interchange was originally scheduled at Clinton but Mason said development over the years forced the park service to modify those plans. Similarly, the parkway still is attempting to come up with an interchange design that will suit the intersection of the Trace with Old Agency Road just west of Madison and Ridgeland.
Public hearings to present possible design alternatives for that interchange, which was also not part of the parkway’s original plan, could come later this year.