Money problems could delay road projects

By By Terry R. Cassreino / assistant managing editor
July 14, 2004
When state legislators crafted a budget for the current fiscal year, they gave the Mississippi Department of Transportation less money than it needed to fund construction projects.
Central District Transportation Commissioner Dick Hall said that move has left many road projects in danger of delay. Hall is one of three elected commissioners who oversee MDOT.
Hall talked about highway funding and other issues including the Meridian/Lauderdale County I-20/59 Industrial Park in an interview with The Meridian Star editorial board.
The Meridian Star: With MDOT receiving less money for the current fiscal year, which highway projects in East Mississippi could be in jeopardy?
Dick Hall: Our No. 1 project in this area is four-laning Highway 19 from Collinsville to Philadelphia. Our schedule was anticipating starting to buy right-of-way in two or three months. Normally, maybe a year later, we would begin (construction).
Right now, that's all put aside. We are analyzing. We are trying to decide what we are going to have to delay. Everything is going to probably have to be delayed.
The Star: You have talked in the past about a traffic study for Meridian and the possibility of widening Interstate 20/59. Could you give us an update?
Hall: All the data has been collected. We are waiting for the recommendations. Part of this is going to determine whether or not we think the north Meridian bypass is feasible.
We also are going to be looking at a south bypass, mainly to relieve the interstate because, realistically, doing anything with that interstate is a long way off. It's just horrifically expensive.
Can you imagine the right-of-way we would have to buy? You would have to rebuild the frontage roads, widen everything. It would just be a very very expensive process.
The Star: How and where would MDOT construct a south bypass?
Hall: I can't tell you how it would be designed. All we are looking at now is the flow: Where are people coming from and going to? How many of them are there? How many folks are going up Highway 493? How does traffic flow in metropolitan Meridian? Where do they start and where do they go? What facilities can be built to better move that traffic?
What the engineering firm is going to come with is here's how much you got, here's what the existing situation is, if you build these facilities here's what the effect will be. I know one of the (questions) we are going to answer is if a north bypass is needed and if a south bypass should be considered.
The Star: A south bypass could be pricey. Would this be a limited-access highway like an interstate?
Hall: No, we are not going to build an interstate. It will not be controlled access.
The Star: You have said in the past that the frontage roads along I-20/59 should be one-way rather than two-way. What is the latest on that?
Hall: We are no further along on that. I'm hoping the study will show us some of that. If it doesn't, then we are going to go back and do a specific study. Your retailers don't like (one-way traffic). You've got some folks here with existing businesses that have lot of questions about it.

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