Federal, state officials to review possible exit sites

By By Fredie Carmichael / staff writer
June 24, 2004
State and federal highway officials are expected to review results next month from an additional environmental study of a potential site for an Interstate 20/59 exit to serve a Lauderdale County industrial park.
If the Federal Highway Administration and Mississippi Department of Transportation approve the study and a proposed site on July 16 in Jackson, then they will schedule a meeting for public input.
The meeting is the latest development in ongoing work to approve a site and construct a new interstate interchange to provide access to the Meridian/Lauderdale County I-20/59 Industrial Park.
Meridian Public Works Director Monty Jackson said a public hearing is formal and required, while a public meeting is "more for the general public's information and input" and is not required.
In November 2003, a public meeting was held at City Hall about the initial proposed site of Hawkins Crossing.
Engineering Associates, the city-hired engineering firm from Jackson, originally proposed a site at Hawkins Crossing near the Bonita Lakes area, a few miles west of the park, for the interchange.
But residents at the public meeting suggested a site near Sweet Gum Bottom Road. Federal and state highway officials then ordered an additional environmental study for that site.
Last week, Jackson and Meridian Mayor John Robert Smith told city councilmen that an environmental study ruled out Sweet Gum Bottom Road. The city, though, has not received official confirmation from highway officials that any potential site has been eliminated.
State Transportation Commissioner Dick Hall, who represents Lauderdale County on the three-member Transportation Commission, was out of the office Wednesday and could not be reached for comment.
Other MDOT officials also could not confirm the status of the interchange project.
The completed environmental study is the last work Engineering Associates will be asked to do for the city under its December 2002 contract with Meridian.
That contract, which called for environmental studies and design work, was never approved by the Federal Highway Administration and, therefore, is not eligible for federal money earmarked for the exit.
MDOT will pay for work done through the environmental phase of preconstruction. MDOT will then select an engineering firm for the remaining preconstruction design work to ensure access to federal money.
Meridian City Council President Bobby Smith said he had planned to call a special council meeting this week to terminate the contract with Engineering Associates before the form complete the environmental study.
Smith, who represents Ward 5, said Henson called him Tuesday to inform him the environmental study was already complete.
Annual Conference
All five members of the Meridian City Council are expected to attend the four-day Mississippi Municipal League 2004 Annual Conference next week in Biloxi. The Mississippi Municipal League is an association of city officials across the state. The conference usually attracts about 3,000 people.

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