State and local leaders, including Northern District Transportation Commissioner Bill Minor, were on hand for the ceremonies in front of New Albany High School.
Kent typified the prevailing sentiments in saying, "We are here to celebrate something that has been a long time coming...something it seems like everything fought 'em on."
That "something" is the five-laning of Highway 15 from King's Creek south of New Albany to the North Haven community north of town. This is basically the part of Highway 15 inside the city limits.
Work should start almost immediately, Minor said, but won't be completed until June 15, 2012. Part of the reason for that length of time is that several bridges are involved, most notably what will be a five-lane bridge over the Burlington Northern rail line just south of the high school.
Work on other sections of Highway 15 will proceed in the meantime, with a grading contract scheduled to be let for the section from North Haven to the Tippah County line in September and the paving contract to finish the job in January 2013.
Minor said property also is being purchased for the southern section from King's Creek to Pontotoc, although he did not give a contract date.
The present highway was first built in the 1950s, although no one at the groundbreaking could remember exactly when. Before that, Highway 15 came down North Street through town and moved onto Central Avenue.
The widening project was added to the landmark 1987 four-lane highway program championed by Union County Rep. John Pennebaker. Minor said Highway 15 was given higher priority in the Vision 21 program in 2001.
"This year we put $50 million into Vision 21 and a great part of it is going to this," Sen. Nickey Browning said. "I've worked with (then) Sen. Minor and talked with him many times over the years; we've all been waiting a long time for it."
Minor said the project will cost just under $18 million and will help Ripley and Ecru as well because of the traffic to and from Ashley Furniture and other industries.
"They are going by traffic count now and nobody has more traffic count than from Pontotoc to Ripley," Minor said, explaing the construction priority. According to a count reported on the MDOT Web site for 2008, the traffic count by the groundbreaking site during one 48-hour period was 13,000 vehicles.
The New Albany project consists of the construction necessary for grading, drainage, bridges and paving work on SR 15 from King's Creek, just south of New Albany, to 6.4 miles south of the Tippah County Line, near the North Haven.
That contract was awarded to Talbot Brothers Contracting of Nesbit for the approximately $18 million Minor mentioned.
Beginning near King's Creek and ending near the north city limits of New Albany, a five-lane section will be completed and in use at this project's conclusion.
Beginning near the north city limits of New Albany, grading, drainage and bridgework will be performed on the northbound lanes to near North Haven.