I-55 lights not likely, Brown says

Published 6:00 am Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Lincoln County supervisors were disappointed to learn Monday theMississippi Department of Transportation is holding firm on itsdecision not to assist them and city aldermen in a joint effort toprovide lighting to a Interstate 55 interchange.

Southern District Transportation Commissioner Wayne Brown metwith supervisors to explain why the state agency would not helpwith the plan to install lights at Exit 40. The proposal had beenrejected earlier in the year.

“We’re not against lighting that interchange by any means,”Brown said. “It’s a good project. We’re just in the same positionyou are. There is a lot of competition for these ever-shrinkingdollars.”

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Brown said MDOT funds had been cut in each of the last severalyears and transporation officials are being forced to do fewerprojects each year.

“It is a problem that goes back to the ‘too much to do withinsufficient resources’ argument. You are right in that there is alot to do in Lincoln County and you are not near the top of thelist in (amount of) funding,” he said.

However, Brown said, in MDOT statistics and projections coveringLincoln County between the years 2000 and 2010, the department hasspent or will spend more than $38 million in projects.

Of that amount, $12 million in projects has already beencompleted, with another $16 million in projects currently underway. Future projects totaling more than $10 million arescheduled.

“We’ve got a lot of work going on here,” he said. “Last week, we(postponed) some district projects for two years because the moneyjust isn’t there.”

Chancery Clerk Tillmon Bishop said it was not that he didn’tappreciate MDOT’s work, but $38 million over 10 years averaged to$3.8 million a year during that span.

“It’s a big deal, but it’s not as big a deal in a county with asmany road miles as Lincoln County has to maintain” when othercounties with less road miles receive much larger appropriations,Bishop said.

MDOT District Engineer Darrell Broome said Lincoln and Pikecounties, in comparison, have received approximately the sameamount of funding in the 10-year span.

The cost of the coast’s recovery is likely to affect MDOTfunding in other areas for years to come, Brown said.

“Some of these (coast projects) are just so horribly expensiveand it hurts us all,” he said.

As an example, the commissioner cited $65 million for a singlebridge that was undermined and needed to be replaced. Bishop seizedupon Brown’s example to provide his perspective of Lincoln Countyfunding.

“We could have only funded half that bridge in 10 years with the$38 million you’re saying we get,” he said.

The cost of the lighting project at the interchange of I-55 andBrookway Boulevard has been estimated at $350,000 to $400,000, saidCounty Engineer Carl Ray Furr.

County and city officials support the project for safety reasonsprimarily. However, a secondary benefit would be to increase theattractiveness and awareness of the new Linbrook Business Park, a400-acre industrial park located just off the interstate at the endof Brookway Boulevard.

“We want to work with the highway commissioners and MDOT ontheir programs, but there are things we have to get done,” Bishopsaid.

Broome said aside from the general funding issues, lightingprojects have rarely been funded by MDOT. He could only remember ahandful that had been funded, primarily because of specialcircumstances.

“Local entities have come up with the monies to do it,” he said.”There has been minimal participation on our part that we have doneto keep the project moving forward, but we have not funded but afew lighting projects.”

Brown also expressed some anxiety about the cost of coastrecovery operations. MDOT has already expended $130 million oncoast roads and bridges with only $2.8 million reimbursed by thefederal government to date. Total cost estimates for MDOT coastrecovery operations were expected to exceed $740 million.

The announcement Monday that the state will receive $29 billionin Hurricane Katrina recovery funds was a great relief, Brownsaid.

“We took a terrible chance, but we had confidence that theAmerican people would come through for us,” Brown said.