House defunds Highway 9 four-laning

By Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal

JACKSON – The four-laning of state Highway 9 north of the Toyota Manufacturing plant at Blue Springs would be defunded under legislation that passed the Mississippi House on Thursday.
Last year the Legislature provided $40 million in bond funds in the Economic Development Highway Act for the four-laning to state Highway 348 in Prentiss County.
Under the new legislation, which passed 96-17, the $40 million would remain available for unspecified highway construction, but would not be dedicated to the Northeast Mississippi project.
The project, pushed by former Gov. Haley Barbour, was designed to provide an alternative route for Toyota suppliers located north of the plant. Highway 9, south of the plant, already is being four-laned to Pontotoc through the Economic Development Highway Act.
But there seems to be less support for the project north of the plant. Rep. Steve Holland, D-Plantersville, who handled the bill on the House floor, said the Highway 9 project north of Toyota is not needed.
“It has not been properly vetted,” he said.
Holland argued that it would cost much more than $100 million to finish the project, and it is opposed by landowners on Highway 348. He referred to the area as “some of the most pristine country in Northeast Mississippi.”
The project caused a nonpartisan rift in the Northeast Mississippi delegation. Rep. Lester “Bubba” Carpenter, R-Burnsville, and Nick Bain, D-Corinth, offered amendments to try to essentially kill the legislation. Both amendments lost by narrow margins.
They argued the north corridor is needed to attract Toyota suppliers to their area. They said Toyota wants suppliers who can make quick deliveries, and if the current U.S. Highway 45 to U.S. 78 route is congested, it would limit a supplier from Alcorn and Tishomingo counties.
“This would give us an alternative route to my counties for Toyota,” Carpenter said.
Rep. Jerry Turner, R-Baldwyn, whose district includes much of the 348 area in question, voted with Bain and Carpenter in their losing effort. But he said there are problems with using 348 as the alternative route because of the opposition by more than 100 property owners in the area. He said he would support four-laning Highway 9 past 348 to provide an alternative route to the Toyota plant.
Rep. Margaret Ellis Rogers, R-New Albany, whose district includes much of Highway 9, said she supports helping the areas north of Toyota, but said Union County supervisors had not voiced any support for the project.Lloyd Gray 3/15/12 optional trim
Randy Kelley, executive director of the Three Rivers Planning and Development District and a key leader in developing the PUL multi-county alliance that recruited Toyota, said the alliance has no position on the issue.
bobby.harrison@journalinc.com