Depot project may bag big game grant

Published 12:40am Wednesday, June 19, 2013

NATCHEZ — Plans to renovate the former railroad depot downtown may soon receive funding from an unlikely source: a TIGER.

Alcorn State University, in conjunction with Jefferson, Franklin and Claiborne counties, has applied for approximately $20 million in federal funding, $1 million of which is to be used to relocate the Natchez Farmers’ Market to the bluff.

The bulk of the money will be used for a “farm-to-market” road and bridge improvement project in the three counties, said engineer Jim Knight of WGK Inc., the project’s engineering firm.

The Three-County Roadway Improvements Program for Southwest Mississippi (TRI-Mississippi) project is seeking funding from the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Transportation Improvement Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) program.

No local match is required for the project, since the three counties and Alcorn represent a rural area.

Approximately $1 million of the requested funding will be allocated to Alcorn to pave the farm road at its main campus and help fund the relocation of the farmers’ market, which is operated by Alcorn’s extension service, and renovate the former railroad depot on the bluff.

The relocation and renovation is part of the City of Natchez’s joint-project with Alcorn State and Mississippi State universities to build a new facility for the farmers’ market on the bluff and operate the depot as a product development center, meeting space and public restroom facility.

Knight said the farmers’ market also fits the TRI-Mississippi project because the market works with small-operation farmers in the three counties to help them grown and market their crops.

The TRI-Mississippi project proposes to repair nearly 40 miles of roads in Claiborne County and replace 22 failing bridges in the three counties. The improvements in Jefferson and Franklin counties would include only bridge work, Knight said.

“We have such a deteriorated bridge system that there are very, very costly detours (for farmers) because of the bridge outages,” Knight said.

But the positive impact of the project will go beyond just farmers, ASU Extension Service Director Dalton McAfee said.

“If someone from a disadvantaged family is looking at those kinds of extra distances (to travel) each week, it hurts them,” McAfee said. “If that someone is a student who can’t make it to class on time, or a small farmer who can’t make it to the market, it hurts us as an institution.”

Knight said the project should be notified in August or September of whether it will receiving funding.

If funded, the TRI-Mississippi will include nearly 30 different construction projects built simultaneously from August 2014 to September 2015.