OUR OPINION: Highway work progresses; funding issues are ahead

By NEMS Daily Journal

Highway construction projects, a high-profile issue in Northeast Mississippi, are largely moving ahead on schedule, but the longer term is complicated by a short-term federal highway program coming up for renewal in October 2014.
Tupelo District Engineer Bill Jamieson said Tuesday key projects like the completion of the new Highway 6 from Pontotoc County to the intersection of U.S. Hwy. 45 in south Tupelo are on schedule, with a final gap in U.S. 45 between Meridian and Tupelo under construction.
Jamieson, who is the chief oversight engineer for most highway work in Northeast Mississippi, said projects under construction are funded for current phases, but some face uncertainty in future construction phases.
All the projects in the Tupelo district in progress or recently completed will impact economic strength and highway safety:
• Highway 6 construction from U.S. 45/South Gloster Street to the Black Zion area in Pontotoc County is 55 percent complete, with completion scheduled in May 2014. Jamieson said it’s possible some traffic will be allowed on the new four-lane road before the formal opening, but that date probably will be determined sometime after Jan.1, 2014.
• Highway 15 four-laning in and around New Albany is complete or on schedule, with construction from north of New Albany to the Tippah County line at Cotton Plant ongoing. Highway 15 construction from south of New Albany to U.S. 278/Miss. Hwy. 6 at Pontotoc is in the utility relocation phase with right of way purchase almost complete, but a start date for construction is not firmly set.
• A January contract letting is scheduled for an overpass of Coley Road Extended/Barnes Crossing Road extended at U.S. 78/I-22 at Belden, with costs expected to range from $10 million to $13 million. Construction, Jamieson said, will take about 18 months. The overpass would complete the new road, Barnes Crossing Road Extended, serving the Barnes Crossing commercial district with direct access from U.S. 78/I-22 and Coley Road.
• Work continues on Miss. Hwy. 25 between Becker and Amory.
The task ahead involves effective interaction among Northeast Mississippi legislators and the state’s congressional delegation in ensuring adequate funding from state and federal sources, an issue in which everyone has a voice.