States miles apart on highway plan

Published 12:00 am Sunday, July 13, 2003

VIDALIA, La. &045; Though they share a border, Mississippi and Louisiana are miles apart in the completion of the El Camino east/west corridor.

While both states are making progress, in Louisiana, 146.38 miles of the 168.5 miles the state plans to four-lane still have not been funded for construction.

Mississippi, on the other hand, has funding to four-lane the entire corridor throughout the state, with almost 27 miles left to be constructed.

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&uot;I definitely know we are going to finish the Louisiana portion of El Camino, from Vidalia to Toledo Bend,&uot; Leland Scoggins, president of the five-state, El Camino East/West Corridor Commission, said.

However, Scoggins’ projection or goal for the completion of the corridor in Louisiana is the year 2025.

That is the projected year for the completion of the entire corridor.

Louisiana has drawn up its master plan for the corridor as well as an implementation plan &045; it’s are just waiting on the funds.

The state has agreed to match any federal funds that are received to finish the corridor, Scoggins said.

Money for the Department of Transportation is divided into four categories &045; preservation projects, safety projects, operational projects and capacity (new highways and new lanes).

Kenneth Perret, assistant secretary for the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development, said 50 percent of the money goes to preservation.

&uot;It’s a catch-22,&uot; Perret said.

&uot;The more roads you build or lanes you add, the more money you spend (on upkeep). It is putting a strain on our budget.&uot;

As part of preservation, the state is making sure the existing parts of the corridor are maintained, Perret said.

Scoggins said lanes that are being preserved will serve as two of the four lanes in the final corridor.

The Mississippi side of the equation is a different story. The last grading job for the highway will begin in 2004 and the last paving job in 2005. &uot;By 2007, we will have a four-lane highway from state line to state line,&uot; Wayne Brown, commissioner of the southern district of the Mississippi Department of Transportation, said.

And corridor signage will be complete by Christmas of this year.

Both the Louisiana and Mississippi departments want to concentrate on bringing more east-west traffic through the middle of the states by way of the corridor instead along the interstates that flank the states.

&uot;Let’s get off that crowded (Interstate) 10, that crowded (Interstate) 20, that sterile 10 and that sterile 20 where we can drive through the country,&uot; Brown said.

The corridor will provide a more scenic route through the rural parts of the state, places Philip Jones, secretary of the Louisiana Department of Tourism, said cultural tourists want to go.

Jones told the five-state commission that rural business are shutting down because there is no traffic to their businesses. He said this regional cooperation can change that tide.

&uot;It is important to continue to do what you are doing to encourage businesses to stay open and new businesses to open,&uot; Jones said.

With 70 percent of the corridor complete or under construction, the commission hopes to make the oldest east-west corridor in the southeast, the El Camino Real as it was once called, a reality.

When it’s finished, the corridor will be a complete four-lane highway travelers can take from El Paso, Texas, to Brunswick, Ga.

And Scoggins said Mexico is thinking of four-laning its highway to connect with the El Camino corridor from the border to Mexico City.