Highway 78 money

The state Department of Transportation will seek $75 million in federal funds to complete upgrades that will bring U.S. 78 to interstate standards across northern Mississippi, House Transportation Committee chairman Warner McBride confirmed on Tuesday.
U.S. 78, a federal highway since 1926, has been designated future Interstate 22 from Memphis to Birmingham through Holly Springs, New Albany, Tupelo and Fulton.
But the Mississippi portion of the route must be improved before full status is granted.
McBride, D-Courtland, in an interview with the Daily Journal, expanded information cited earlier by Northern District Transportation Commissioner Bill Minor, D-Holly Springs.
McBride said the state, through the Mississippi Department of Transportation, will seek the special stimulus funds from the Federal Highway Administration, which has a $1.5 billion fund for projects of “national significance.”
McBride said MDOT has decided U.S. 78’s movement to interstate status fits the category.
Guidelines have not been fully developed, McBride said, but the application process is ready to begin when the go-ahead is given from the federal level.
McBride said Tuesday the major portion of work will begin in western Union County and extend to the DeSoto County line. Concrete roadway will be replaced with a “rubberized” asphalt surface after the concrete’s demolition, McBride said.
The segment west of New Albany is familiar to many motorists because parts of its concrete pavement are badly worn by heavy traffic and need replacement.
McBride, Rep. Donnie Bell, D-Fulton, and MDOT Executive Director Butch Brown met earlier this year in Washington with federal officials and the congressional delegation as part of the planning impetus. McBride said the delegation is strongly committed.
McBride also said he believes Brown’s chairmanship of the National Association of Transportation Officials will be helpful in negotiations.
The special funds would supplement funds already appropriated for work on U.S. 78:
n $5 million for work on an interchange in New Albany.
n $16 million for work between the Tennessee and Alabama lines.
n $4.1million, from federal stimulus funds previously announced, for work from the east end of the Tenn-Tom Bridge at Fulton to the Alabama state line.
n $2.8 million, from stimulus funds previously announced, for work from the Belden interchange to U.S. 45, both within the Tupelo city limits.
Tupelo District engineer Bill Jamison said the discretionary funds work would fall mostly under the oversight of MDOT’s Batesville District.
Interstate 22 designation became possible under legislation sponsored by Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., when he represented the 1st Congressional District in the U.S. House.
Interstate status also requires one connection to another interstate highway. The probable first connection for I-22/U.S. 78 will be I-65 near Birmingham. A connector on a new interstate, I-69, is planned for the Memphis metropolitan area.
Alabama’s new U.S. 78 route, an Appalachian Corridor Highway, is open to Graysville, a community on the old route of U.S. 78 north of Birmingham.
The Birmingham connector’s completion is expected in 2011.

Contact Joe Rutherford at at (662) 678-1597 or joe.rutherford@djournal.com.

Joe Rutherford/Daily Journal