Projects require talents

Published 12:00 am Sunday, July 29, 2001

Statewide projects are calling up the entrepreneurial talents of Mississippi’s new Department of Transportation director.

Those who know former Natchez Mayor Larry L. &uot;Butch&uot; Brown will not be surprised to learn that he is looking for ways to stretch every dollar his 3,500-person department gets from the gasoline taxes that fund it.

&uot;We’re looking at a $1.2 billion budget for 2002-2003,&uot; Brown said from his office in Jackson. &uot;That’s a lot of money to spend and a lot of responsibility.&uot;

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The big budget notwithstanding – and it is the biggest yet for the department – Brown is seeking ways to maximize every dollar, he said. &uot;We’ll be asking for flexibility in how we can spend our money. One of the cornerstones of our plans is to get $20 million for new equipment.&uot; The amount allotted for equipment was reduced in the most recent budget.

A massive highway-building program, including the seemingly slow-moving four-laning of U.S. 84 and U.S. 61, has moved ahead since its official start in 1987.

&uot;Since the ’87 highway program, we’ve built and built but we haven’t done a good job of taking care of the other highways,&uot; Brown said. That has become a priority.

&uot;We’ll be putting more emphasis on overlaying, and that will be a big challenge.&uot;

With a prohibition against using federal funds for highway maintenance, Brown has asked for a broader interpretation of the law so that some of that money can be used specifically for overlays. He’s optimistic about the plan.

Mississippi will be among states in the Southeast to get increasingly heavy traffic from markets opening across U.S. borders, Brown said.

&uot;It’s called cross-border trade, and we’re going to see 25 times the traffic on our highways as a result of it,&uot; he said. &uot;Trade is going to grow and grow.&uot;

The highway construction in Southwest Mississippi finally is approaching completion. &uot;It won’t happen day after tomorrow, but it’s going to happen,&uot; he said.

&uot;We’re working to get the corridor to Vicksburg and also to Baton Rouge,&uot; Brown said. &uot;Louisiana wants to do this, too, and it’s just a short piece for them.&uot;

Some of the upcoming projects expected to unfold in the Natchez area are these:

4Once the Natchez Trace Parkway connects with Liberty Road, the state Highway Department will make the Seargent S. Prentiss Drive-Liberty Road intersection a top priority.

&uot;Ultimately that will be our signature entrance to the city, a major interchange in conjunction with the Trace and our business corridor,&uot; Brown said. &uot;That’s on our front burner.&uot;

4The intersection in front of Natchez Regional Medical Center is another target for upgrading. &uot;We want something functional as well as beautiful there,&uot; Brown said. &uot;We’ve looked at a possibility of a European-style roundabout at that intersection..&uot;

4The truck scales will be a target for demolition. &uot;We can enforce those weights in different ways today. We have the technology today essentially to weigh the trucks while they’re in motion.&uot;

The scales probably will close within a couple of years. &uot;We’ll take up the pavement, fill in the pits, and, of course, we always have environmental concerns to deal with,&uot; Brown said.