New highway plan discussed Wednesday

Published 12:00 am Sunday, January 13, 2002

Sunday, January 13, 2002

The Natchez Democrat

Butch Brown was the first to admit, he didn’t know much about

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the Mississippi Department of Transportation when he was named

its executive director last year.

&uot;I told (lawmakers) that I don’t know anything about the

transportation department, but they’ve hired me to build a bridge

between our building and yours,&uot; the former Natchez mayor

said. &uot;And I think we’ve gone a long way toward doing that.&uot;

In less than a year in office, Brown has used his charm and

head for business to resurrect the once struggling message of


&uot;One of the things I’ve done since I’ve been here is trying

to reestablish the rapport with the Legislature,&uot; he said,

adding that many issues existed between the two groups. &uot;We’ve

addressed them one by one and reestablished the enthusiasm.&uot;

This week Brown returns to Natchez to speak to the Natchez

Rotary Club.

His message will be two-fold.

First he’ll &uot;concentrate on all of the access around the


Brown said he will discuss MDOT’s preliminary plans for reworking

intersections along U.S. 61 at the D’Evereux Drive near the truck

scales, Liberty Road and John R. Junkin Drive.

Originally, Brown said MDOT had considered roundabouts as a

solution for the intersections, but after studying the matter

engineers discovered the traffic counts were too high to be handled

by roundabouts.

So will Natchez become a jungle of concrete overpasses?

Probably not, but Brown was hesitant to say exactly what will

happen with the intersections – he’d rather build a little excitement

for his noon speech Wednesday at the Ramada Inn Hilltop.

Will we have something like &uot;The Stack&uot; in Jackson

at the Intersection of I-55 and I-20?

&uot;Maybe a mini-Stack,&uot; Brown laughed, obviously joking.

While the local options may remain under wraps until Wednesday,

the other part of Brown’s mission is clear – Vision 21.

Brown and other officials from MDOT and Sen. Bob Dearing, D-Natchez,

are expected to talk about Vision 21, MDOT’s new long-range highway


The $3.6 billion plan is a pay-as-you-go program to build new

highways and upgrade existing ones.

The plan’s goal is to pick up where the 1987 Highway program

ends. The 1987 plan is expected to be completed in about three

years. And, Brown says, the goal of Vision 21 is to remove some

of the politics and build highways based on traffic counts and


Since it was officially introduced last December, Vision 21

has received unanimous approval of the Mississippi Transportation

Commission and the AHEAD group.

AHEAD, or Advocating Highways for Economic Advancement and

Development, is a statewide economic development group that helped

pass the 1987 legislation. Locally, Joe Fortunato is a member


Given the ongoing state budget woes, Vision 21 will need lots

of support to get fully passed through the Legislature. But, if

anyone can push it through, Natchez’s bridge builder appears up

to the challenge.

Kevin Cooper is editor of The Natchez Democrat. He can be reached

at (601) 445-3541 or by e-mail at