By Joe Rutherford/NEMS Daily Journal
TUPELO – U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood will attend the official ribbon-cutting for the new Mississippi Highway 9 on Aug. 16, an indication that the speedily completed project has drawn national attention.
Northern District Transportation Commissioner Mike Tagert mentioned LaHood’s plans to attend the ceremony during a briefing with the Daily Journal editorial board Thursday.
The noon event, to which the public is invited, is set at Eutaw Construction’s field headquarters site at 2993 Dozier Hill Road, near the Endville General Store in Pontotoc County. Also expected are U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker and U.S. Rep. Alan Nunnelee, both Republicans from Tupelo. LaHood is a former Republican congressman from Illinois.
Tagert said “there’s nothing hotter” than Highway 9 in talk of highway construction with a national profile.
He said the $87 million, 10-mile route had been projected to cost $100 million by the state, but the Design-Build method used for the high-priority artery linked to the Toyota plant at Blue Springs helped bring in the $87 million bid by Eutaw Construction of Aberdeen. The project was completed in just over a year, four months ahead of schedule.
Tagert said the four-laning that links U.S. 78 to U.S. 278/Highway 6 north of Pontotoc should facilitate recruiting Toyota-related suppliers and other industry to Pontotoc County. Pontotoc County is a member of the PUL Alliance, also comprised of Lee and Union counties, that formed to attract an auto assembly plant to the region.
Pontotoc has not secured a Toyota-related supplier, and the lack of a north-south four-lane link to the plant has been cited as a reason.
Tagert, a Republican from Starkville, described both Highway 9 and the new Highway 6, due for completion in fall 2013, as “game changers” in creating a four-lane network in the region.