By Joe Rutherford/NEMS Daily Journal
ENDVILLE – Political leaders and other key players in efforts leading to the construction of the new Highway 9 from Sherman to U.S. 278/Highway 6 north of Pontotoc on Thursday ceremonially and festively inaugurated the four-lane, 9.5-mile artery.
It had quietly, fully opened to traffic July 30.
About 400 people attended the ceremony at the Eutaw Construction Co. staging site near Endville, most sitting under a large tent with large fans set up to battle heat and humidity.
The highway was built in direct response to Toyota Motor Manufacturing Mississippi at Blue Springs needing a four-lane, north-south connection.
Among the speakers was 1st District U.S. Rep. Alan Nunnelee, R-Tupelo, whose family has lived in the Endville community area for 150 years.
Nunnelee – former chairman of the Mississippi Senate Appropriations Committee – said he was in the meeting when former Gov. Haley Barbour placed Highway 9 four-laning among his second term’s highest priorities.
“What a day!” Nunnelee exclaimed.
Dennis Cuneo, the former senior vice president of Toyota Motors North America, who recommended the Wellspring megasite to his company’s executives, said the former, two-lane Highway 9 left a negative impression when he and other Toyota leaders attempted to drive from the Toyota site in Blue Springs to the University of Mississippi in Oxford.
“We got behind some trucks going 30 miles per hour,” Cuneo said. “We finally just gave up and turned around.”
He went on to give due credit to the region’s and state’s leadership for securing funds to expedite construction of the new highway.
“The first thing you look for in new development is roadways,” Cuneo said.
U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Tupelo, a Pontotoc County native, noted that the official ground- breaking was one year and one week before the ribbon-cutting event. He called the design-build construction a “remarkable achievement.”
Gov. Phil Bryant also addressed the crowd. U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood was scheduled to attend, but he had aircraft problems and was stranded in Miami.