OUR OPINION: Dramatic opportunity opens with new highways

Two important elements in the long-term surface transportation plan for Northeast Mississippi open this week, the new Highway 6 link from Tupelo into Pontotoc County and a segment of the Northern Loop/Barnes Crossing West road, connecting U.S. 78 and North Gloster Street in Tupelo.

Highway 6 opened Thursday morning; Barnes Crossing West opens with a ribbon-cutting at 9 a.m. today on the west side of the route’s new bridge spanning the Natchez Trace Parkway. Traffic must exit at Mt. Vernon Road until the final link is opened in the fall on completion of a new bridge over Highway 78 near Belden.

Opening of the last link of the new Highway 6, in particular, strengthens the regional network of corridors.

Traffic now can flow from Tupelo on four-lane highways to other four-lane connectors in every direction except eastward to Birmingham, where the critical I-65 interchange with the U.S. 78/Interstate 22 Corridor remains under construction. Completion of the spectacular $165 million, three-level, “stacked” interchange is projected for the fall of 2014.

U.S. 45 connects with U.S. 82 near Starkville and West Point, in Meridian with Interstates 20 and 59, with I-40 in Jackson, Tennessee, and U.S. 78 connects indirectly with I-240 in Tennessee, but will connect directly with the new Interstate 69 near Holly Springs when that route opens.

Additionally the four-lane arteries opened so far create a strong intra-state network in Northeast Mississippi, tying together the towns and cities from Starkville to the Tennessee line, Holly Springs to the Alabama line, and from Oxford/Batesville to Fulton.

All the four-lane highways in Northeast Mississippi rise out of two concerns: Economic development and safety.

Highway 6 is an example of a changed route to connect traffic, especially heavy commerce, to industrially developed areas on the U.S. 45 corridor. As it turns out, the new highway itself already is targeted for major economic development.

The Community Development Foundation, in a joint venture with the Hancock family, is developing land for The Hive, an industrial park with frontage on the new Highway 6. Movement on those plans could begin in a few months.

Dramatic infrastructure change requires seizing new opportunities.