Department of Archives opposes road work in Port Gibson

Published 12:00 am Sunday, August 3, 2008

PORT GIBSON — The board of trustees of the Mississippi Department of Archives and History has passed a resolution opposing the decision to four-lane U.S. 61 down Church Street in Port Gibson.

The resolution, passed July 25, states that the board finds Church Street “is a place of special historical interest and of such importance to the people of Mississippi that its integrity should not be jeopardized or impaired.”

The resolution also requests the Mississippi Department of Transportation to forego the proposal.

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The proposal, passed by two of the three MDOT commissioners, has drawn criticism, and opponents of the measure say that the vibrations from the increased levels of traffic will damage the historic trees, homes and churches that line the street.

Rather than widening the street, MDOT will convert the street-side parking along Church Street to accommodate the extra lanes. Church Street is currently two-laned.

“Our proposal is to pretty much leave (the historic) section alone and just overlay it with one layer of asphalt,” MDOT District 3 Engineer Kevin Magee said. “That would not threaten any trees or any of the churches. The traffic would remain exactly where the traffic is now.”

Southern District Transportation Commissioner Wayne Brown said the reason he voted for the Church Street proposal was because a previous Port Gibson mayoral administration and the Claiborne County Board of Supervisors had sent them letters stating they wanted the route to go through the historic district.

“It appeared the city and the county were for it,” Brown said. “When I became a commissioner in 1999, generally speaking, the county folks wanted the highway to go around the city and the city folks wanted it to go through, because going through town means that more people are coming through town spending more money.”

The board of supervisors and the city administration, both of which have since had changes, no longer support the idea, said Central District Transportation Commissioner Dick Hall, who voted against the measure.

The problem is that no one can agree on any one alternate route.

“We have got to continue to work until we can get the majority of people to agree on something other than Church Street,” Hall said.

And those disagreements go back a long time, more than 20 years.

“We have been trying since 1987 to pick a route around Port Gibson,” Brown said.

“I told them it was a mistake and it should go around,” Brown said. “Each time we try to go around there are tremendous problems with both environmental and historical issues.”

The disagreements about what route the highway should take have been so varied that Hall said the commission “has gone from plan ‘A’ all the way through plan ‘K’.”

Even though the decision has been made, said he thinks it could be changed.

“If (those who oppose the through-town route) will work with us to go around the town, I personally think we ought to go on and widen the areas going into town and work to bring a bypass around the town,” Brown said.

The problem is that something has to be done for the present, Brown said.

“What we are going to do is overlay the pavement outside the historical district, add some turning lanes and add some traffic signals to streamline traffic,” he said.

As for Hall, he is opposed to sending more traffic down Church Street at all.

“I think it will do the community damage,” Hall said. “If you can do this to Port Gibson, you can do this to everybody.”