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La. group endorses plans for Highway 27 evacuation route

Mississippi officials received a nod of support from a Louisianaagribusiness organization this week in their efforts to create anevacuation corridor from New Orleans through Lawrence County.

“I think this will be key toward getting more money on theLouisiana side,” said Monticello Mayor David Nichols, one of theleading organizers of the effort.

Nichols, Walthall County economic developer Pam Keaton and JohnPerry, an engineer with Williford, Gearhart and Knight Inc., whichrepresents Copiah County, Crystal Springs and Georgetown, metMonday with several senior officials of the Greater New OrleansAgribusiness Council.

The Mississippi delegation told the council of their plans tofour-lane Louisiana Highway 25 and Mississippi Highway 27 to helpthe coast when disaster looms by creating another evacuationcorridor inland.

The council recognized the need for another corridor afterwitnessing thousands flee north from the New Orleans area duringHurricane Ivan. Hundreds took refuge in the Lincoln, Pike andLawrence county areas.

“Had Hurricane Ivan hit New Orleans, I would not have beensitting there talking to them because the money would have alreadybeen appropriated,” Nichols said. “Disaster officials know thatanother evacuation corridor is needed, and that is why they orderedso many body bags.”

New Orleans disaster officials ordered 50,000 body bags inpreparation for Ivan, Nichols said.

Counties and municipalities along the route also recognize theneed and are actively promoting the plan to get more Louisianaorganizations and influential people involved, he said.

“The more people and organizations we can get involved, the morepressure we can apply to the Lousiana delegation to fight for morefunding,” Nichols said, adding that Mississippi legislators arealready in support of the project.

Aside from use as an evacuation corridor, the plan could greatlybenefit areas along the route.

“I’ve never hid the fact that I thought this would be good foreconomic development, and they wanted to know how it would helpagribusiness,” Nichols said.

Most obvious for agribusiness, the mayor said, is that produce,either raw or finished, has to be moved from its source to adestination market. Increasing the number of lanes will alsoincrease traffic while making it easier to transport goods.

“They are going to endorse this program as individuals and as anorganization by writing letters to the Louisiana congressionaldelegation in favor of four-laning highways 25 and 27,” Nicholssaid.

On the Mississippi side, a transportation bill awaitingcongressional action already includes $500,000 for Highway 27. Themoney would fund an initial study on the needs and estimated costof expanding the highway from the Lousiana line to Vicksburg.

The transportation bill is in conference committee but will notbe taken up until the next session of Congress.

“This gives us time to try to get more money put into it for theLouisiana side,” Nichols said. “That’s what we’re trying to donow.”