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Local leaders hopeful about new interstate that could pass through Natchez

 

NATCHEZ — City officials are optimistic following a meeting Tuesday in Alexandria concerning the prospect a future interstate highway could run through Natchez.

Natchez Mayor Darryl Grennell said the general tone of the meeting is positive, but he said the onus now falls on him to rally both locally and state elected officials to get Mississippi on the right track for the prospective Interstate 14 project.

“I have got to pull locally elected officials that are along the (U.S.) 84 corridor … all the way over to Laurel — I’ve got to pull that delegation in and get them on board,” Grennell said. “And also our legislative delegation, our senators and congressmen.”

Natchez Inc. Executive Director Chandler Russ, who also attended the meeting, said he would do his part to unite economic development authorities in the area to gain traction for the project.

“The outcomes (of this meeting) were establishing a point of contact for the Mississippi portion, which is us, and then (getting) a game plan to begin building a Mississippi coalition that will move in concert with Louisiana and Texas,” Russ said.

The officials have just more than two months to establish a united front before a meeting in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 22, when representatives from the three states will reconvene in our nation’s capital.

“The meeting on Jan. 22,” Russ said, “is kind of the … first kickoff where we’ll brief the multi-state legislative (I-14) delegation.”

Grennell said the members of the Gulf Coast Strategic Highway Coalition, which headed the meeting, told the Natchez officials a collaborative effort between Mississippi delegates is vital for the state.

“Basically, what my question to the presenters was ‘What is it that we in Mississippi need to do in order to get this project moving forward for Mississippi?’” Grennell said. “The response was to get local people organized … to get the Mississippi Department of Transportation (informed) and, of course, work on our legislative delegation in this project.”

As a big-picture concept, I-14 has been in the works for more than a decade, with the hope being for the interstate to connect El Paso, Texas to Augusta, Ga., in the hopes of enhancing connectivity between military facilities while also providing an economic boon for the five Southern states it would theoretically traverse.

At Tuesday’s meeting, Grennell said he got the impression the focus currently lies upon achieving the section of I-14 that connects West Texas to Natchez and through Laurel.

Gulf Coast Strategic Highway Coalition Communications Consultant Don Rodman said Monday the coalition’s effort focuses strictly on communities within Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi.

Congress designated a section across Central Texas in 2015, and the first 25-mile portion of I-14 was officially unveiled in April 2017 in Killeen, Texas. To date, the Lone Star state is the only one of the three represented at Tuesday’s meeting to have any stretch of road congressionally designated.

“Texas — they are moving (full) steam ahead,” Grennell said. “I was just really impressed with their progress.”

Grennell reiterated the importance of bringing the project to Natchez.

“From an economic standpoint, this will open all kinds of doors,” Grennell said. “If we don’t get this project coming in and it goes somewhere else, we’re left out of the loop.”

He compared this situation with the designation of I-20, which runs through Vicksburg. Grennell said Vicksburg demonstrates how infrastructure can lead a city to flourish, hoping that I-14 could do the same for Natchez at some point down the road.

Though no finite timetable exists for the project, completion of the interstate could take decades, if ever accomplished. But Grennell believes the project is feasible and could be the key to a renaissance of industry and retail and, in turn, an opportunity for Natchez natives to return home.

“Not a month goes by that somebody from Natchez tells me ‘I want to come home, but I just need a good job opportunity,’” Grennell said. “This will open the door for that to happen.”