By Joe Rutherford
TUPELO – Dozens of public officials, VIP guests and about 200 other people Tuesday morning applauded the official ribbon cutting of the final new Highway 6/U.S. 278 segment, but the road won’t open until Monday.
Frequent rainfall in recent weeks has put the final work on the paving project behind schedule, but Mississippi Department of Transportation District 1 Engineer Mark Holley said MDOT is “shooting for Monday” to open the 10-mile sector from U.S. 45 to Highway 342 in Pontotoc County.
The rest of the four-lane artery has been open for several years from Pontotoc to Oxford and on to Batesville.
Doyce Hancock Deas of Tupelo, whose family owns land surrounding part of the new highway’s route, said, “I never thought I would live to see this happen.”
Northern District Transportation Commissioner Mike Tagert, the keynote speaker, said the ribbon cutting under a bridge at the Graham Road interchange south of Tupelo High School was a “day for celebrating” progress, vision, safety and potential economic development.
“No one entity built this asset alone,” Tagert said.
Tagert said the new route will be better able to handle “heavy commerce” in the transport truck traffic transiting from I-55 to U.S. 45.
Other speakers, including state Sen. Nancy Collins, R-Tupelo, and state Rep. Steve Holland, D-Plantersville, both praised the vision and planning in previous decades leading to the new highway’s construction.
Collins, whose father, the late Roy C. Adams, was Northern District highway commissioner from 1948 to 1968, said the new four-lane represents progress and forward movement.
“There is no horizon beyond our reach,” Collins said.
Holland, a senior member of the Legislature, said credit should be shared with the late U.S. Rep. Jamie Whitten, who proposed Appalachian Regional Commission funding for a pilot project that became the new Highway 6.
Mississippi ARC Director Mike Armour said the commission, a state-federal partnership in 13 states, has invested $225 million in Mississippi highways, including Highway 6, through the Appalachian Developmental Highway Program, which passes money through MDOT.
Holland, Collins, Rep. Mac Huddleston, R-Pontotoc, and others credited momentum created by the 1987 Highway Program, Mississippi’s first statewide, funded arterial highway system.
Holland said, “If I live to begin the 2015 session I am going to introduce legislation to adequately maintain this and other highways statewide.”
Holland’s remark brought applause from the crowd, including Tagert and other MDOT officials on the dais.