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Mayors eye I-14 proposal with cautious optimism

Talk of upgrading Highway 84 for eventual inclusion in a newinterstate encourages city officials, but they say they believe itwill take years – if not decades – to become reality.

Sen. Trent Lott joined with Georgia Sens. Zell Miller and SaxbyChambliss recently in backing a proposal to make Highway 84 part ofan interstate that would stretch from Natchez and Augusta, Ga.,passing through Laurel and Montgomery, Ala. The new interstatewould be designated I-14.

Third District U.S. Rep Chip Pickering is sponsoring companionlegislation in the House of Representatives.

Brookhaven Mayor Bob Massengill and Monticello Mayor DaveNichols said they fully support the proposal.

“It would be wonderful for Brookhaven to be located at thejunction of two interstates. Not many Mississippi cities could makethat claim,” Massengill said.

Nichols agreed but expressed concern that an I-14 proposal mightdistract lawmakers from other projects the mayor believes are morebeneficial to the local area.

“I think it’s a marvelous idea as long as it’s not at theexpense of other ongoing projects,” he said. “Highway 84 as afour-lane highway will be done in a very short time. Thefour-laning of Highway 27 is still a wide-open project, and we hopethe senator’s support for that will remain as strong as it haswhile he pursues the I-14 project. That would truly make adifference in southwest Mississippi. We’d like to see it all putinto one package.”

Massengill admitted some concerns about seeking an interstateproposal with construction ongoing in the Highway 84 project.

“We really need that four-laned across the state. There is somuch that is partially complete,” he said. “I would hate for thisto deter that.”

The mayors said the completion of Highway 84 would already givefour-lane access across this area of the state and greatly enhancetheir ability to promote and recruit industrial prospects. Thatconversion of Highway 84 to I-14 would only boost that advantage,they said.

“The ease with getting into and out of a community has a realbearing on where companies will locate,” Massengill said.

Brookhaven’s status as an industrial prospect would be greatlyenhanced with either the completion of Highway 84 or its beingupgraded to I-14 as an east-west corridor and I-55 as a north-southcorridor, he said.

Nichols agreed and said the positions of both cities would beboosted with Highway 84 or I-14 and a four-lane Highway 27 toprovide a secondary north-south corridor.

“The Lawrence-Lincoln area could become the major mecca oftransportation in southwest Mississippi,” Nichols said.

However, officials said, any development along those lines islikely to be several years in the future. A study on the I-14project is due for completion by the end of the year and willdescribe the steps and funding necessary to construct theinterstate. Legislators must then approve the project and find themoney to build it.

Construction itself is also likely to take a decade because,although the new Highway 84 roadbed was built to interstatestandards, the rest of the highway was not, Nichols said. Mostobvious, he said, are that on ramps and off ramps would have to bebuilt for all the major roads, and other roads and home accesswould have to be closed.