EDITORIAL: Major progress

Years of work, politics and planning culminated with Monday’s announcement that an $87.4 million contract has been awarded to Eutaw Construction Co. for the 10-mile route of new Mississippi Highway 9 from Pontotoc to Sherman.
The Mississippi Department of Transportation chose an aggressive construction schedule, with a planned completion of the new highway in December 2012 – only 18 months from moving the first dirt to opening.
MDOT chose to use the design-build process, which means the contractor will design and build the project. The design-build process allows design and construction to overlap, streamlining the process and minimizing delays.
The urgency in the project is the scheduled start of production this fall at the Toyota Motor Manufacturing Mississippi plant adjacent to U.S. 78 near Blue Springs. The new route will support suppliers and other related businesses that open in Pontotoc County or other sites in the region.
The Legislature, with the strong backing of most area legislators, Mississippi Development Authority, the private sector and Gov. Barbour, provided $90 million in bond funds in the 2010 session specifically for a new Highway 9 as an economic development corridor. The new four-lane artery will connect four-lane Mississippi Highway 6 at the Nixon community north of Pontotoc with the U.S. 78 interchange in Sherman. All the connections and construction are driven by potential linked to the start of Toyota production.
The new highway also will fulfill one of the high priority projects under the Vision 21 statewide highway plan that has languished for lack of adequate funding.
Randy Kelley, executive director of the multi-county Three Rivers Planning and Development District, headquartered in Pontotoc, said Monday the new highway has economic development implications beyond Pontotoc County and Toyota.
He’s right. The new four-lane will complete an artery first proposed when a new Highway 6 was planned. The routing changed to extend Mississippi 6 into Tupelo, connecting with U.S. 45 near the Tupelo-Verona city boundary.
On completion, developers will have direct four-lane connecting of U.S. 45, U.S. 78/Interstate 22, Mississippi 6, and Interstate 55 at Batesville. The eventual four-laning of Mississippi Highway 15 through Tippah, Union, Pontotoc and Chickasaw counties will further enhance development probabilities.
Passage of the bond issue funding the highway demonstrates the importance of holding a strong presence on the transportation committees in the Legislature, a political asset that has proven its worth over the decades.

NEMS Daily Journal