Let There Be Light: Funding found for interchange

Published 5:00 am Friday, June 29, 2007

Years of concerted work by local government officials to acquirefunding to construct cluster lighting at the interchange ofInterstate 55 and Brookway Boulevard has come to a happyconclusion.

After talks with Southern District Transportation CommissionerWayne Brown and MDOT Executive Director Butch Brown, funding forthe project has been found, District 39 Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith saidtoday.

Brookhaven is currently one of only a few cities on the I-55corridor that does not have cluster lighting. Talks in the pastbetween city and county government and MDOT have proven ratherfutile as the project had been treated as somewhat lowpriority.

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“The Brookway Boulevard lighting project is under way and thefunds have been secured,” Hyde-Smith said. “After severaldiscussions with Commissioner Wayne Brown and Executive DirectorButch Brown, we have reached an agreement and the money wasfound.”

Wayne Brown said today the breakthrough came when Butch Browndecided to redirect some funds toward the local project.

“Well, the director got involved and he was willing to move somemoney around as far as the districts were concerned,” said Brown.”We’d told them we’d program it for three years out provided thecity would take over the maintenance and electrical costs. But thedirector said he was willing to move the money around to get itdone sooner.”

Hyde-Smith said the acquisition of the funds is an example ofhow working together can bring great change.

“It’s been a rocky road and I am just glad it worked out for thebetterment of our city,” she said. “State government can take manydifferent turns. But if everyone works together and diligently,good things can be accomplished. This is a fine example.”

She said the lighting should be planned and erected within ayear.

“The erection will begin pretty quickly, and the project shouldbe completed within 12 months,” she said. “This is a wonderfulenhancement for Brookhaven. I have been assured that this projectis top priority and will have their attention.”

Hyde-Smith’s confirmation comes two days after MDOT DistrictEngineer Darrell Broome told the Brookhaven Kiwanis Club Wednesdaythat $700,000 in funds have been acquired for the interstatelighting project Brookhaven and Lincoln County have been workingtoward for years.

“Apparently what happened is that MDOT is working on anunderstanding between them and local government where they willprovide funds for the project if it’s maintained and the power issupplied by local government,” said Brookhaven-Lincoln CountyChamber of Commerce Executive Vice President Cliff Brumfield onThursday. “This project has been on the front burner for a coupleof years, so those comments are very welcome.”

Lincoln County Chancery Clerk Tillmon Bishop said Thursday hehad heard of Broome’s statement and was thrilled.

“If that’s the case, we’ve been working as a community for yearsto get the funding from the federal level and from the state. Thisis certainly welcome news from Mr. Broome, because we’ve hadseveral conversations with him as well as TransportationCommissioner Wayne Brown,” he said. “Most recently in conversationsand letters to Butch Brown, he indicated that they were going totry to find the funds from MDOT.”

Mayor Bob Massengill said Thursday evening his understanding ofearlier talks with MDOT officials was that they had finally agreedafter years of talks to look for financing for Exit 40.

“What I know is that they said they were going to try to findthe funds and try to include us, and they said hopefully within thenext six to eight months,” Massengill said. “We were told they weregoing to try to find those for the central interchange, theneventually we’d find them in the future for the northinterchange.”

Wayne Brown said Friday that the north interchange is schedulednow to be done in a three-year time frame.

“The other one will start three years hence,” he said.

Bishop said he hoped the news Broome brought to the Kiwanis Clubwas an outcropping of Butch Brown’s apparent willingness to workwith the community on the project. He said in all the talks withMDOT officials until this point, requests from the city and countyfor lighting funds have continually been met with hesitance.

“We did not get that from Wayne Brown, nor the first time fromMr. Broome,” said Bishop. “Regardless of where it comes from we’reanxious to see it happen. If this is the case, my comment to theDepartment of Transportation is ‘Thank you.'”

The mayor echoed Bishop’s gratitude.

“That’s a great announcement, and we’re all excited if thattakes place.” Massengill said. “This is something we’ve all neededfor a long time.”

Bishop said not only is the county grateful if the funds comethrough, but greatly relieved after long years of work on theproject.

“A lot of people in this community have been working to getthis. Quite frankly if we have lighting on the interstate with some25,000 to 30,000 cars traveling on that strip every four hours,it’ll draw people from a business perspective, but it’s also aboutsafety with a new business park being built,” he said. “We needthose lights, and we’ve been committed to getting them one way oranother.”

Massengill said he is anxious to speak with MDOT officialshimself, and that he had actually passed Commissioner Wayne Brownat the Mississippi Municipal League meeting he is attending thisweek.

“I saw Wayne Brown at a distance yesterday and did not know atthat time about the announcement. This is good news, but it is justthat, it’s news,” he said. “I knew they were looking for funds, butdidn’t know that they had found them.”

Brumfield said the project, surprising as the news was, will beinteresting to watch play out.

“There are details to be worked out, but this is great news tohear. We’re looking forward to how this pans out,” he said.