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Mississippi Transportation Commission supports designation of Interstate 14

 

NATCHEZ — The Mississippi Transportation Commission voted Tuesday to support the designation of Interstate 14 after a delegation from Natchez pleaded its case Monday in Laurel.

The support of the Mississippi Department of Transportation is a necessary step to getting the interstate built, District-1 Supervisor Mike Lazarus said.

The group from Natchez — which included Lazarus, Mayor Darryl Grennell, Ward 3 Alderwoman Sarah Smith, Supervisor David Carter and Natchez Inc. Executive Director Chandler Russ — presented the benefits of constructing I-14 to Southern District Transportation Commissioner Tom King on Monday.

The transportation commission Tuesday voted unanimously to sign a resolution of support, King said, as soon as that resolution is written.

“It means no commissioner will be against it,” King said.

“I’m for it as long as we can pay for it,” King said. “It’s all about economic development, which is badly needed.”

Grennell said the interstate would cost approximately $1 billion when including the acquiring right-of-ways, building access roads, and other construction costs.

Those expenses exclude the costs of building an additional bridge in the Natchez area, which is also needed to see the project through, Grennell said.

The primary complication facing construction of the interstate, Russ said, is funding.

“It’s a long-term project,” Russ said. “Hopefully we can chip away at that cost and have a quality interstate.”

Before any progress on funding the project can be made, however, Russ said the delegation would have to receive congressional designation for the project.

“We didn’t want to go to D.C. to request designation if we didn’t have MDOT behind us,” Lazarus said, referencing an upcoming trip to Washington, D.C., that the same group of delegates will make.

The late-January trip to the U.S. Capitol will give Lazarus and others the opportunity to ask for congressional support.

“This will clear the way for us to pursue funding,” Lazarus said.

The Monday meeting with King, Russ said, was also somewhat a practice round for the group of Adams County representatives before they head to Washington.

“(Receiving MDOT support) is an important and big step,” Russ said. “But it also gave us a chance to prepare so we’ll be able to answer their questions a little better.”

Russ said a major interstate highway so close to Natchez would bring economic benefits such as jobs, industry and tourism.

Russ said for the purposes of convincing state and federal government, however, the delegates have to look at larger goals as well.

“Being able to show our need for economic develop and the tie-ins for ports, (military) forts and the surrounding area is important,” Russ said.

The interstate, he said, would provide a connection between many of the surrounding military bases in Louisiana and Texas as well as provide a quicker evacuation route in the event of a hurricane.

The interstate is important, Russ said, both to Natchez and to a wider audience.

The challenge will be convincing others that of the project’s viability and impact, Lazarus said.

“There are a lot of people in the running for that funding,” Lazarus said. “We’re not going to get it sitting here.”