Leaders discuss roads again

Leaders discuss roads again


Almost $4 billion is headed to Mississippi in a bipartisan federal infrastructure bill but it’s unclear whether Neshoba County will get the nearly $200 million needed to finish the Highway 19 four-landing and the Williamsville bypass, state and local leaders were told on Tuesday.

Leaders gathered at the Depot on Tuesday to talk about several highway projects and needs.

Mississippi Central District Transportation Commissioner Willie Simmons addressed more than a dozen local government and business leaders that included Choctaw Indian Chief Cyrus Ben, state Sen. Jenifer Branning, Philadelphia Mayor James A. Young and others at 10 a.m. Tuesday morning.

“We don’t know yet how all that money will be shaken out,” Simmons told the Neshoba countians gathered.

District Engineer Neil Patterson opened the presentation with an update on the ongoing Highway 19 widening project currently underway. He said that the $35.6 million four-laning of 4.52 miles from Tucker into town is on schedule for completion in early October 2023.

Patterson said he was happy to see the federal infrastructure bill pass and hoped to see some money come into the area.

“Everything we do costs money and more money,” Patterson said. “We are thankful that the infrastructure bill passed, but I am not sure that the dollars will go as far as they would have pre-COVID.”

Patterson said they are in the beginning planning stages of the Highway 19 project from Tucker to the House community, which started last April. He said they are currently in Phase A, which includes moving utilities, obtaining the right of way and completing the plans for the project.

The current phase is estimated to take about three years before construction can commence, though as they secure funding, they could likely speed that process up, Patterson said. The whole project is estimated to cost around $50 million without accounting for inflation, with $46 million of that being for the actual construction of the roadway.

State officials also gave an update on the long-discussed $130 million bypass from highway 19 to Williamsville that has been on the drawing board for three decades.

Patterson said that because of the enormity of the project, it was probably a ways off but that they were looking at a number of projects that would accomplish some of the things a bypass would by getting large trucks off of city roads.

Patterson said they are looking to build connector roads into Weyerhaeuser from Deemer Road and from Deemer Road to Highway 19. Patterson said his latest estimates have the project at about $20 million but is at an “impasse until he can set up a meeting with Weyerhaeuser.” They estimate it would be another two to three years until they could get started on that project after a meeting with the company.

Patterson also said they are looking at a redesign of Highway 15 and 16 connector. Simmons called the current layout a “dangerous situation.” Patterson said he favors a roundabout as a solution, but the project is still in the early stages of finding a solution.

Simmons said the state is in “pretty good shape” and that he is committed to getting needed projects funded.

“The state is in better financial shape than it has ever been in is what I’ve been told,” Simmons said.

The state has generated additional funds through sales tax on online sales and the lottery, as well as $1.8 billion in American Recovery Plan Act Funds that have yet to be allocated, Simmons said. MDOT has received none of that money other than $80 million from the lottery fund passed by the Legislature in 2018.

State Rep. Scott Bounds said the Legislature is considering wastewater and broadband projects for the $1.8 billion in unallocated ARPA funds.

Simmons went on to say on Tuesday that he is aware that transportation issues are “interconnected” and that in addition to funds awarded to local entities, any funds awarded to his office could go toward projects in Neshoba County.

Simmons said of the more than $3.3 billion, “I am requesting the Legislature to follow its tradition of appropriating federal funds to the Commission and not earmarking funds in the appropriation process.”

An item Simmons highlighted on a six-page handout said he wanted to provide funding to enhance and add lanes to Highway 19 and Highway 16 in Neshoba County and develop adequate access routes to Weyerhaeuser Industry in Philadelphia and future economic development in the area.

Young said he was pleased by what he heard. He said the presentation showed that state officials have a plan for the area.

“I am excited about the possibilities,” Young said.

Young said “stable transportation” is an important element to ensure that residents and visitors have a “pleasurable experience” in town. 

Branning said she thought the presentation showed there was open communication and a “positive relationship” with state road officials. She said it showed that they could “continue to work to get things done for Neshoba County.”

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