Bill seeks $8 million for Trace

Published 12:00 am Thursday, December 16, 1999

Completion of the Natchez Trace Parkway grew marginally closer Thursday as federal, state and local officials discussed legislation to clear a path for the proposed roadway.

Representatives from the Federal Highway Administration, the Mississippi Department of Transportation, the Natchez Trace Parkway, and the City of Natchez agreed to request $8 million from the state of Mississippi to secure necessary rights-of-way to complete the Trace.

Both the MDOT and the City of Natchez will co-sponsor legislation to fund the purchase of 14 parcels of land from St. Catherine Creek to Liberty Road.

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&uot;It’s about 80 acres of land,&uot; said Natchez Mayor Larry L. &uot;Butch&uot; Brown.

Over the years, three different routes for the completion of the trace have been placed on the drawing board.

The chosen route would end the Natchez Trace Parkway four miles past U.S. 84/98 with an interchange at Liberty Road. This will require the land acquisition currently under discussion. Eventually, this route will lead to the Bluffs at the Visitor Reception Center.

According to the National Park Service’s Environmental Impact Statement on the project, the chosen alternative would lay 23 acres of pavement in a 581-acre project area.

Other routes considered by the groups includes one that would not extend the parkway, but would acquire a minimum of land to build an interchange to connect the incomplete parkway to U.S. 84/98.

Yet another route that did not pass muster would have extended the parkway four miles beyond U.S. 84/98 and end with an interchange at Seargent S. Prentiss Drive.

&uot;We already have $70 million in the bank to build the trace,&uot; Brown said. &uot;But parkway money doesn’t buy rights-of-way.&uot;

Brown said the City of Natchez would support MDOT in their legislation to fund the rights-of-way purchase. Brown said Thursday’s meeting clarified participants’ roles in the completion of the parkway.

MDOT is responsible for &uot;real estate,&uot; he said, which includes not only acquisition of rights-of-way but also appraisals, titles and deeds for the properties.

&uot;Our legislation will be introduced in the next session of the state Legislature,&uot; said Wayne Brown, transportation commissioner for the Southern District. He said an exact deadline for introduction of the legislation has not been set.

&uot;Since the construction has been approved on a federal level, there’s no doubt that the project is going through,&uot; said James H. Kopf, deputy executive director/chief engineer with the MDOT. &uot;I just hope that all parties support the legislation. I don’t know of any opposition.&uot;

Just outside the meeting, however, was opposition.

Ser Sheshab Heter C.M. Boxley, chairman of the Natchez NAACP Fair Share/Economic Reciprocity Committee, handed out flyers to meeting participants as they entered the Visitor Center.

Boxley said he is opposed the Natchez Trace extension project if it does not include preservation of the Forks-of-the-Road, site of one of the largest slave markets in the South.

Meanwhile, plans inside the Visitor Center moved forward without the inclusion of the Forks-of-the-Road site.

&uot;We will continue to coordinate with federal, state and city representatives,&uot; said Wendell Simpson, superintendent of the Natchez Trace Parkway. &uot;This project is critical and important to all of us.&uot;

&uot;This is a better route than we had before,&uot; he said of the approved route for the trace extension.

Mayor Brown said he was pleased not only with the route for the extension but with the pace of the project.

&uot;It may seem to be taking a long time to get this done, but we’re right on target,&uot; the mayor said. &uot;By the end of the next Legislative session, we’ll have the money and we’ll be ready.&uot;