Four-lane to open in August

Published 12:00 am Sunday, July 29, 2001

The final 13-mile stretch of U.S. 84 between Natchez and Brookhaven will open in August.

Tons of earth have been removed, equipment worn to dull blades, perhaps a generation of workers retired and Southwest Mississippi economic development officials tortured for years by promises that Natchez soon would be connected by four lanes to an Interstate highway.

All those things plus expenditures of many millions of dollars have taken place since the beginning of the project to upgrade the stretch of approximately 50 miles.

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Andrew Ketchings, interim director of the Natchez-Adams Economic and Community Development Authority and a state legislator, recalls his election to a first term in the House of Representatives in 1995.

&uot;I told someone I knew that before my first term was up we would have that section of 84 four-laned,&uot; he said, laughing at the miscalculation.

Has it made a difference for Natchez and its efforts to recruit new businesses and industries? &uot;You bet,&uot; said Ketchings.

&uot;Just the perception was not good,&uot; he said. &uot;You’d have a company ask if you had four-lane access to an Interstate and you’d tell them, ‘well, almost,’ that just wasn’t enough, even though it was just a few miles.&uot;

Natchez has been left isolated for far too long, Ketchings said. &uot;It’s ridiculous that 13 miles took so long.&uot;

Ketchings said work also is moving along on U.S. 61, and he can envision a completed highway to Vicksburg and to the Louisiana border coming to fruition in the near future. &uot;Having Butch in his new position and Bob M. as chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee will help,&uot; he said, referring to former Natchez mayor Larry L. &uot;Butch&uot; Brown, who was appointed director of the state’s Department of Transportation in April, and state Sen. Bob M. Dearing, D-Natchez.

Brown, in fact, said emphasis has been put on moving along projects in Southwest Mississippi.

&uot;It will not happen day after tomorrow, but we are actively working on the four-laning north and south of Natchez.&uot;

Environmental studies, right-of-way acquisitions and other preliminary work is under way to complete the U.S. 61 four-laning.

&uot;Louisiana wants to do this, too,&uot; Brown said from his office in Jackson. &uot;They have just a short piece to make it four lanes all the way from the border to Baton Rouge.&uot;

Tony Byrne, also a former mayor and an economic development activist for many years, said completion of the four-laning is good news for travelers as well as for business and industry.

&uot;We’ve been fighting for years for this four-laning. Now we’ll have to see if we were right about how important it would be to recruiting industry.&uot;

Byrne said the opening of the last stretch will be a big day and should get plenty of attention. &uot;I hope they’ll ballyhoo this pretty well. It’s important.&uot;

Janet Sullivan, the state transportation representative in Natchez, said indeed there will be plenty of ballyhoo for the opening.

&uot;We’re planning a really big celebration. It’s going to be great,&uot; she said. &uot;We hope this will take place sometime in the latter part of August.&uot;