Clarksdale and Coahoma County leaders have fought for years for a four-lane road running from Clarksdale to Batesville and Interstate 55. It appears that fight will have to continue on.
When members of the Mississippi Department of Transportation unveil its proposed Statewide Transportation Improvement Program plan to members of the public this Thursday, there’s going to be little mention of Coahoma County.
Mitch Turner, who is district engineer with the Department of Transportation’s District 2 office in Batesville, said there is “limited” mention of Coahoma County in the plan as most of the projects that will be unveiled are “long-range type plans.”
He said while there may be some discussion about the need for a four-lane Highway 6 from Batesville to Clarksdale, he doesn’t know if it will carry a lot of weight with state transportation officials.
“Currently, it’s not just being talked about,” Turner said. “There is somewhat of a need. A lot of people, particularly in your area, really want to see it happen, but when it’s compared to the level and volume of traffic in other parts of the state, it falls down the list.”
And that’s disappointing for folks like Clarksdale businessman Jimmy Walker, who is the founder of the thriving local company Saf-T Cart and has lived here all of his 82 years.
“We just don’t have the people here,” he said of a shrinking population. “They know we’re here and we remind them constantly. We just don’t have the political clout.”
As a member of the Coahoma County Industrial Foundation and the chairman of that board’s highway committee, he knows how important access and good roads are to a community’s economic well-being.
“It’s not our driveway,” Walker said of a four-lane corridor to Clarksdale. “This wouldn’t be just serving the people who live here. It’s a through highway.”
He pointed to the Toyota plant in Blue Springs near Tupelo. The tentacles of that operation spread westward to Sardis and Batesville. But there, it stops.
“They’re not going past (Interstate) 55,” Walker said. “Most of our opportunities come from automotive plants. We need that east-west corridor.”
One project that could eventually have an impact on Coahoma County would be Interstate 69.
“I think there’ll be some discussion about the future of I-69 and how it will affect Coahoma County and the area,” Turner said, but added, “There won’t be any specifics, because there aren’t any specifics about that right now.”
He said with the current limited funding levels that the Mississippi Department of Transportation receives from the federal and state governments, the bulk of their time and money is devoted to “replacing old bridges and trying to keep up with overlaying our roads and keeping our roads maintained.”
Turner said, “Unless our funding stream can be improved dramatically, new roads, four-laning, bypasses and those kinds of projects aren’t just going to happen. That’s a hard pill to swallow, but the department, and commission as whole, we can hardly keep up with the roads we got, much less build new ones.”
Currently, the state’s five-year project plan for Coahoma County includes the following projects:
A mill and overlay of US 49 from the Tallahatchie County line to where the four-lane road begins in Clarksdale. That project is listed as active but much of the work has been completed with some signage, shoulder gravel and permanent striping all that’s left to complete.
Other planned projects for Coahoma County under the five-year plan are:
Preventative maintenance with a bridge repair on US 49 at Hopson Bayou, which is expected to take place this year.
And the mill and overlay of US 278 from its intersection with state Route 161 to the Quitman County line. That is expected to take place in 2021.
Turner said there are also some plans to replace three or four bridges in Marks, which will essentially have all the bridges on Highway 6 and 278 replaced between Clarksdale and Batesville.
District Two is comprised of 17 counties, essentially northwest Mississippi. Thursday’s meeting will be essentially for the northern two districts of the MDOT, which includes 33 counties, that is headed up by Commissioner Mike Taggart.
Turner said it’s important for the public to voice their input at the public hearing.
“It’ll be a time for us to not only explain, but also listen,” Turner said. “And that’s the more important part, listening to folks explain what their needs are.”
The Statewide Transportation Improvement Program (STIP) is MDOT’s complete listing of planned transportation improvements for the state during the next five years.
The plan, which is approved by the Federal Highway Administration and Federal Transit Administration, includes state-funded projects of regional significance, as well as all federally funded projects for which MDOT is directly responsible and those that are done by Local Public Agencies and State Aid.