Supervisors: Safety of Morgantown Road is top of mind

Published 7:57 pm Monday, May 24, 2021

NATCHEZ — It has been at least 20 years since talks of widening and resurfacing Morgantown Road first began. However, little more than the legal the groundwork has been done for the project.

Officials have been at work on a plan to widen and resurface the road starting four years after 18-year-old crossing guard Casey Schrock was struck by a passing motorist at the intersection of Morgantown and Booker roads in January 2001 and died from her injuries.

The road width, nighttime visibility and its frequent flooding whenever it rains have been a top public concern. However, much of the progress made to fix the problem cannot be seen on the road itself.

Widening the road and digging the necessary amount of drainage on either side required that Adams County jump through legal hoops to obtain rights-of-way from individual property owners.

Adams County Supervisor Ricky Gray, whose district shares the road with Supervisor Warren Gaines’s district, said many residents were not happy with the original plan to have a turning lane in the center of the road because it would have taken up a lot of their property.

The second issue holding up the project is funding it. Officials estimated redoing the entire road would cost approximately $3.3 million.

The project was initially listed for funds from Mississippi Office of State Aid Road Construction, Gray said. However, those funds would not last.

“Once we took the turning lane out (of the plans), 99 percent (of landowners) were on board with the project and the rest took us to court,” Gray said. “Once we won the court case, we lost the funding. … Those funds can only be held for so long. The money that was approved for Morgantown was used to repair bridges in the state.”

Adams County Board of Supervisors President Angela Hutchins said the board is looking at every possible avenue to get the project funded, including a federal bond that would have to be repaid if necessary.

“A bond issue was discussed but is not set in stone,” Hutchins said, adding other funding avenues may open up.

Officials also said the Mississippi Department of Transportation could start striping the road as a temporary safety measure before it is resurfaced.

“We don’t want people to think that just because we’re striping it that the road is not going to be redone,” Hutchins said. “That is mainly a safety precaution so that people can see the road at night.”

Supervisors Gray, Gaines and Hutchins all said they would support a bond issue if it was necessary to start fixing the road this year.

“Personally, my goal is to at least have it started by the end of the year,” Gaines said. “During budget season (in August), if we can’t get the funding, then we will talk about a bond issue. … I want my constituents to know that I see their concerns and I see their need and I am working to fill those needs.”

In the meantime, the City of Natchez has also shown full support of the project. City and county officials consulted with their lobbyist and former Congressman Gregg Harper to identify other possible means of funding the project.

“The whole entire board has been working diligently to get this project done,” Hutchins said. “A couple of weeks ago, we had our lobbyists Gregg Harper and (Manning McPhillips) come down and also had a guest from Sen. Roger Wicker’s office along to take this tour of Morgantown Road to show them how bad a condition the road is in.”

Officials also said they are hopeful that some of the $5.9 million that Adams County is slated to receive from the American Rescue Plan Act can be used for digging the drainage along the road. However, they are still waiting for guidance regarding what projects are eligible for the funds.

“That is the most traveled and dangerous road in Adams County,” Gray said. “Safety is the number one thing that has been on all of our minds.”