Tupelo District Engineer Bill Jamison of the Mississippi Department of Transportation said on a recent driving tour of construction sites that one of the long-awaited new four-lanes – Mississippi Highway 6 from Tupelo to Highway 342 near Pontotoc – should see the start of paving in early 2012 and completion in early 2014.
The opening of that link will provide direct four-lane access from U.S. Highway 78 and U.S. Highway 45 at Tupelo to Interstate 55 at Batesville.
Jamison said about $100 million in construction is under way in Northeast Mississippi, with another $90 million assured, pending a review of Mississippi Highway 9 funding legislation in the 2011 session.
The new Highway 6 will connect with U.S. 45 at what’s now the South Green Street interchange near the Verona-Tupelo city limits.
Highway 6 is one of the top-priority highways in the Vision 21 four-laning program adopted in 2002 by the Legislature, but most of its funding for the final Pontotoc-Tupelo link has come from federal sources.
The $76 million stretch opens what has been mostly cultivated farm land, pastures and woodlands to eventual new kinds of development, including commercial and manufacturing operations and residential growth.
Jamison said the new Mississippi Highway 9 from Pontotoc to Sherman – including direct access to the Toyota plant via Magnolia Way, a frontage road connected to existing Highway 9 – was fully funded by the 2010 legislative session with the expectation that Toyota would keep its Mississippi commitment.
While preliminary work continues, a 2011 legislative review is required. Highway 9 extends north of the plant, too, and a proposed widening of that stretch and of Mississippi Highway 348 eastward to near Baldwyn, has been controversial.
Under the bill signed in April by Barbour, funds will be reviewed by the Legislature in the 2011 session.
The House passed an amendment preventing funds from being spent north of the plant because many landowners in the area oppose the four-laning.
The review and delay allows Barbour and other supporters of widening Highway 9 North and 348 to better make their case to landowners along the proposed route, which would serve a major Toyota supplier in Baldwyn and improve plant employees’ access.
Sen. Hob Bryan, D-Amory, a 27-year legislator and strong highways supporter, said he backs the Highway 9 four-laning from Pontotoc to Sherman but opposes the Highway 9 North/348 proposal because it is not necessary.
He cited languishing work on Mississippi Highway 25, which has been an immediate priority since 2002 as a higher need.
Another Vision 21 highest priority, Mississippi Highway 15, a major artery for large furniture plants from Ripley southward into Chickasaw County, has seen the start of work.
Earlier this month, officials from cites along the route broke ground in New Albany for the first major widening project – an $18 million five-laning from King’s Creek south of New Albany to the North Haven community north of the city. Preliminary work also has started on four-laning from King’s Creek south to Pontotoc and from North Haven to the Tippah County line.
The New Albany-linked projects are expected to be complete in 2013.
Additional Highway 15 works in process includes environmental studies from Falkner to the Tennessee line in Tippah County, and the same kind of work from Mississippi Highway 4 in Ripley to the Union County line. Jamison said he expects those jobs to be under contract in about two years to 30 months.
Jamison said in previous interviews that lack of funds has delayed the start of work on Highway 15 and other major arteries.
A new overpass at the Euclatubba Road intersection with U.S. 45 in Saltillo, driven by traffic safety concerns, is expected to be completed in the summer of 2011.
The $6.97 million span and interchange will provide grade separation at the busy intersection where serious wrecks have claimed lives and caused multiple serious injuries. The intersection at grade level requires crossing four lanes of traffic. Jamison said the overpass will eliminate that hazard.
Contact Joe Rutherford at email@example.com or (662) 678-1597.