OUR OPINION: Adequacy, safety mark highway work

By NEMS Daily Journal

The functioning opening of a new bridge over U.S. Highway 45 at the Euclatubba Road junction near the northern Saltillo city limits makes a dangerous crossing immeasurably safer.
The bridge, dedicated Wednesday but not opened until Thursday because rain delayed the final touches, replaces a deadly grade-level crossing that became more dangerous as traffic volume increased on the four-lane highway and the busy county road.
In Pontotoc County, adequacy and safety are major factors in the fast start of construction on the new Mississippi Highway 9 four-lane artery from near Pontotoc to Sherman on a route east of the existing highway.
District Engineer Bill Jamieson in MDOT’s Tupelo headquarters office said Thursday that work began July 5, with Eutaw Construction’s heavy equipment already shaping the outlines of a roadway, most visible where the new highway will cross Endville Road. Endville Road, also known as Endville-Chesterville Road, connects McCullough Boulevard in west Tupelo/Belden with Highway 9 at the Endville community in Pontotoc County.
An interchange on Endville east of the Endville community will provide access for local traffic on that heavily populated road and other nearby roads.
The new four-lane will replace an aging two-lane highway that was not designed for heavy commercial traffic, which is expected to spike when Toyota’s new assembly plant at Blue Springs opens. The new, multi-lane highway will be safer and move traffic more efficiently.
It also will complete a connector that had been originally designated when construction of the new Highway 6 was planned. That plan was delayed when the route of Highway 6 was changed and taken directly to U.S. 45 in south Tupelo.
Pontotoc County elected officials and regional economic developers believe the new Highway 9 will provide incentive for manufacturing development, especially potential suppliers for the Toyota’s plant and related industries.
Most of the new construction so far on Highway 9 is near the northern terminus at Sherman, but a formal groundbreaking ceremony has been set for Aug. 11 nearer the connection with Highway 6 near Pontotoc. That 11 a.m. ceremony will include Gov. Barbour, MDOT Commissioner Mike Tagert and other state officials.
Barbour strongly backed funding for Highway 9 in a legislatively-enacted bond bill. The $90 million route also was supported by the late Transportation Commissioner Bill Minor, who died unexpectedly in late 2010.
Safe, adequate highways were treated as optional infrastructure for too long in Mississippi. That attitude has changed in the past 25 years, spurred by public opinion and necessary competitiveness.