Business owners in waiting game over Liberty Road

Published 12:00 am Sunday, December 8, 2002

C.B. Jones was manager of Davidson Package Store when it opened almost 16 years ago, and he doesn’t see that changing &045; unless a planned interchange moves the business altogether.

If the state decides to go with its preferred design, 12 businesses, &045; including Davidson Package Store &045; one county barn and one house will be bought up to make way for the Liberty Road/Seargent S. Prentiss Drive interchange.

&uot;You’re looking at several jobs you’ll lose if these businesses are taken out. And it’s not like you can crank back up that easy &045; some of these businesses have been here a while,&uot; Jones said.

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&uot;The (Seargent S. Prentiss) bridge can be upgraded without doing all this. I see it as a waste of government funds,&uot; he said of the project, which would take about $9.5 million and four-and-a-half years to finish. &uot;I guess I’m just frustrated.&uot;

Since the interchange plan, and two other alternatives, were unveiled at an October public hearing, businesses have expressed similar concerns about the plan.

So to make sure that all concerns are taken into consideration before a plan is set in stone, the state Department of Transportation is taking extra time to study all alternatives, Executive Director Larry L. &uot;Butch&uot; Brown has said.

Without such an interchange, the extension of the Natchez Trace Parkway to Liberty Road, which is expected to be complete by 2005, will increase traffic beyond the current intersection’s ability to handle it, MDOT officials have said.

Traffic counts for Liberty Road and Seargent S. Prentiss Drive were not available as of Friday.

The bypass, built 60 years ago, in obsolete and dangerous, and improvements would spur economic development, with displaced businesses and the homeowners getting fair market value for their property, Brown has said.

While MDOT isn’t starting from square one, &uot;we’ll probably take another 30 days to relook at a couple of alternatives,&uot; Brown said. &uot;We want to take all concerns under consideration.

&uot;We want to reevaluate every alternative so we have a good comprehensive plan,&uot; he said.

At October’s hearing, three alternatives for the interchange project were shown. Those included:

4Alternative A, a partial cloverleaf exchange.

4Alternative B, with straight ramps on all four sides of the interchange and a two-lane, two-way frontage road.

4Alternative C, MDOT’s preferred alternative. It also has four straight ramps but has only one single intersection. It would also have a two-lane, two-way frontage road.

The project &045; 80 percent of which will be paid by the federal government, with 20 percent coming from state funds &045; will also widen Liberty Road from two to four lanes.

It will relocate Camellia Drive to align with Wood Avenue, improve the intersections at Wood and Camellia and on Seargent S. Prentiss Drive at Wal-Mart, and reconstruct bridges and reduce access points along Seargent S. Prentiss Drive.

MDOT officials will look at modifying those alternatives to address businesses’ concerns, said E. Claiborne Barnwell, a MDOT environmental engineer working on the project.

That further review could actually take until February to complete, Barnwell said.

One of the main concerns expressed to MDOT officials as well as local officials was that of access to businesses along the corridor. Alternative C, for example, would eliminate direct access to Seargent S. Prentiss for 14 businesses.

&uot;A lot of these businesses are dependent on the ease of customers getting in and out, and some would also have their parking reduced&uot; by some of the alternatives, Barnwell said. &uot;Mobility and safety are our main concerns.&uot;

Those concerns, along with the elimination of businesses, were a main reason Mayor F.L. &uot;Hank&uot; Smith and some Natchez aldermen have opposed Alternative C.

&uot;That’s a loss of jobs, property taxes and sales taxes to this city,&uot; Smith said in a recent interview.

Whatever alternative is ultimately chosen, MDOT will distribute copies of the final plan to the public and maybe even have another public hearing, Barnwell said.