EDITORIAL: Highway opportunity

By NEMS Daily Journal

The Mississippi Senate’s version of a $300 million highway and bridge bonding bill passed unanimously Wednesday, and it included $90 million to build a new four-lane Mississippi Highway 9 from Pontotoc to Sherman near the Toyota assembly plant at Blue Springs – more than twice the $42 million passed for the same project by the House.
The Senate’s version, which faces a vote in the House, also came with a relayed promise through Transportation Chairman Tom King, R-Petal, from Gov. Barbour: “The governor said, ‘I promise they will be building cars there before the road is built.’”
Barbour’s promise isn’t date specific, but it’s another in a series of statements from political leaders and Toyota officials that plans to build cars in Mississippi move forward despite Toyota’s safety recall issues and the still-slumping auto sales market.
In addition, the $90 million would provide at least some funds for a new connector road using Highways 9 and 348 for a route from Blue Springs northeast to Guntown, near a major Toyota supplier in Baldwyn. Opposition to that road has surfaced; we hope routing concerns and other issues can be worked out.
The proposed link from Mississippi 6 to Sherman – where an access road has been built from existing Highway 9 to the Toyota plant – also is an immediate priority under the 2002 Vision 21 statewide highway program, providing a double reason to immediately build the four-lane that would provide access from I-55 at Batesville to the plant, and eastward on U.S. 78 to Tupelo, Fulton, Birmingham and Atlanta.
Construction continues on Mississippi Highway 6 from the end of the four-lane Pontotoc bypass into Tupelo, where it will link with U.S. 45 at South Green Street near the Tupelo/Verona boundary. Much of the funding for the new Mississippi 6 is joint state-federal funds.
Nothing’s certain, but momentum for a significant, targeted priority highway construction program appears to be strong. It’s not the statewide, multi-billion dollar initiative envisioned and promoted by the GetSMART (Start Mississippi’s Approved Roads Today) advocacy organization, but additions can be made as the state’s economic situation supports political consensus.
The serious effort to build a statewide four-lane system for safety and economic development began with the 1987 Highway Program. The Vision 21 program is an extension of that.
Priorities in Vision 21 are all justified, and some routes, because of opportunity and circumstance, are more urgent than others. Mississippi 9 and Mississippi 9/348 are two of those.