Mayors going to Washington,D.C. to promote El Camino Highway

Published 12:03am Wednesday, January 30, 2013

NATCHEZ — Four-lane highways mean safer travel, faster transport and economic development opportunities for small towns that might not otherwise thrive.

That’s the message the El Camino 5-State East/West Corridor Commission will be taking to Washington, D.C., next week. The mayors of both Natchez and Vidalia as well as several others from the area will be among those carrying the message.

The El Camino Corridor — named after a historic Indian and Spanish trail — is 1,729 miles of U.S. 84 running from Brunswick, Ga. to El Paso, Texas. The commission was formed in 1989 with the goal of boosting economic development along the highway, and for the last six years the group has traveled to the nation’s capital to meet with congressional leaders to lobby for funding to four-lane the highway. Monday, they will do so again.

Mississippi commission member Janet Sullivan said that even though U.S. 84 is four-laned throughout Mississippi, all of the states along the corridor have an interest in seeing the other states get four-lanes for the highway.

“If it is four-laned in Louisiana, that comes right into our front door,” Sullivan said. “If it is four-laned in Louisiana, things are going to get to Natchez much faster. If you have two lanes in Louisiana and two lanes in Alabama, it is much faster to get goods to market on a four lane — that’s what everybody is looking at now, the speed and ease of getting your goods to market.”

Concordia Parish Economic and Industrial Development District Director Heather Malone is a member of the Louisiana portion of the commission. Most of U.S. 84 throughout Louisiana is two-laned, but Malone said this year the commission would be doing things differently than in the past, when different state delegations would visit their individual representatives in Congress.

“This year, (commission members) from other states are going to join us and vice versa with our Congressional representatives so they see it is a five-state regional effort and it is not just about four-laning a scenic byway for tourism purposes, but it is an economic development opportunity for these small towns that, because no major roadway goes through them, they are having a hard time keeping up, and a four-lane will improve commercial opportunities for those areas,” Malone said. “If Louisiana is the missing link in all this, it is not worth anything.”

Sullivan said the group approach only makes sense because no one can afford to be territorial anymore.

“Because the way the economy is, nobody stands on their own,” she said. “You have to help those around you because what helps the people in Texas, Louisiana, Alabama and Georgia helps us because we are in that five-state corridor.”

“The senators and congressmen up there didn’t know anything about El Camino, and they have been very interested. They have been impressed that three states, four states, five states have been willing to help each other.”

Natchez Mayor Butch Brown is also attending, he said because the commission encouraged him to do so because of his past work with the Mississippi Department of Transportation.

“Mississippi is the only state that has completed its segment of El Camino, and because of that they seemed to think my attendance can be of some benefit to the other states,” Brown said.

While the group is in Washington, D.C., they will also take advantage of the time to meet with congressional leaders about other projects not necessarily related to the El Camino Corridor, Sullivan said.

“You want to get as much into these visits as possible, because (the congressional delegation’s) time is valuable, and you really only get one time a year to go, so whatever your concerns are you need to get them in,” she said.

Brown said he would take the opportunity to meet with all of the congressional delegation and the National Park Service about revenue or funding for the city’s 2016 tricentennial celebration, additional funding for the bluffs and paving the entrance to Emerald Mound.

Malone said the Concordia Parish delegation would meet with congressional leaders about the Vidalia port’s development, business prospects that are contingent on the port developing further, the Vidalia broadband project and Concordia Parish’s drainage issues, as well as taking messages for municipalities in the parish that are not able to send a representative.

Vidalia Mayor Hyram Copeland will also attend. He could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

Former Ferriday Mayor Glen McGlothin, Vidalia Conference and Convention Center Director H.L. Irvin and Vidalia Marketing and Public Relations Director Sheri Rabb — who are all commission members representing Louisiana — will also attend.

Monticello Mayor Dave Nichols will also be part of the Mississippi delegation.