By Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal
JACKSON – Officials from Tishomingo, Alcorn and Prentiss counties said they believe state officials understand the importance of keeping alive the project to four-lane Highway 9 north of the Toyota plant at Blue Springs.
Members of the TAP Alliance met with state leaders Monday and Tuesday after the House passed legislation last week to free up $40 million in bonds originally dedicated to the Highway 9 project. That legislation is now in the Senate.
“We had a good discussion,” said Rep. Nick Bain, D-Corinth, one of several Northeast Mississippi legislators involved in the discussion. “… I think everybody wants a road open. We are just trying to figure out how to do it, the best compromise.”
City and county officials and economic developers from the counties met with House Transportation Committee chairman Robert Johnson, D-Natchez, and state Department of Transportation officials. Some also met with Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves.
Rep. Lester “Bubba” Carpenter, R-Burnsville, said Johnson gave assurances he would try to work with the group. “Everybody agreed to work with each other,” said Sen. Rita Potts Parks, R-Corinth.
Four-laning of Highway 9 south of the plant to provide a direct route to Toyota suppliers that might locate in the Pontotoc area is on track. But the plan to improve the highway north of the plant has split the Northeast Mississippi legislative delegation.
Rep. Steve Holland, D-Plantersville, was a primary proponent of defunding the Highway 9 north project. He argued that people on state Highway 348, designated as part of the route for Toyota suppliers, were adamantly opposed to it and said the existing route – U.S. Highway 45 to U.S. 78 – already was sufficient for potential suppliers in the extreme Northeast Mississippi counties.
Gary Chandler, president of the Alliance, the economic development organization for Corinth and Alcorn County, said the project needs to be kept alive because of its importance to future economic development in the three counties.
He said often it takes 20 years for the all the suppliers associated with a plant as large as Toyota to be sited. He said working on the Highway 9 four-laning to Highway 45 could help locate suppliers in the area.