Evacuations shift spotlight back to highway upgrade

Published 5:00 am Friday, September 30, 2005

Evaluations of Hurricane Katrina emergency response have broughtnew light to a proposal to four-lane Highway 27 to improve itseffectiveness as an evacuation corridor for New Orleans andsurrounding areas, an area official said.

Monticello Mayor David Nichols said the jointMississippi-Louisiana project has gained some momentum after thedevastating storm struck the Gulf Coast last month.

“In conversations with Sen. (Thad) Cochran, Cochran’s staff andCongressman (Chip) Pickering’s staff, Katrina has shown thedefinite need for additional evacuation routes,” Nichols said.

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Pickering, who has been promoting the project since long beforeKatrina, serves as a member of the federal board reviewing theresponse to the hurricane.

“There’s no doubt in my mind it will become more of a talkingpoint when they examine what went right and what wrong withKatrina,” Nichols said.

The mayor did not know how many people used the highway toevacuate New Orleans and surrounding areas but said trafficremained steady with Louisianans heading northbound long afterKatrina struck.

The mayor said his prediction of the highway’s importance shoulda major hurricane strike the coast were accurate.

“I said it would be the last route out of New Orleans to close -and it was because the causeway was still open when I-10 floodedand closed – and it was the first to be reopened,” he said.

Still, Nichols said, the already designated evacuation route ofLouisiana Highway 25 and Mississippi Highway 27 from New Orleans toVicksburg was underused. Four National Guard armories inMississippi alone, including one in Monticello, that could havebeen opened as shelters never opened their doors.

The mayor said he believes that had the highways been four-lanedto allow more evacuation traffic the route would have received moreattention.

Ironically, only days before the hurricane struck, Nichols,Lawrence County District One Supervisor Steve Garrett andrepresentatives from Copiah County, Crystal Springs, WalthallCounty and Georgetown met with Cochran in Washington to discuss theproject.

“We left the meeting feeling positive that we may receive anadditional $500,000 to study the portion of the route from theLawrence-Copiah county line to Crystal Springs,” Nichols said.

Pickering has already promised $500,000 for a study of the routefrom the state line to the Lawrence County line and a federalhighway bill passed recently includes $400,000 for the LouisianaHighway 25 study.

The $1.4 million, if Mississippi’s appropriations are approved,would provide the funding for engineering and environmental studiesalong the entire proposed route.

“We look forward to getting the funding into the state so thismuch-needed project can truly begin,” Nichols said.