Officials remain hopeful for area project prospects

Published 5:00 am Friday, July 20, 2007

Monticello aldermen were disappointed but remained optimisticabout prospects for several projects following a trip to Washingtonlast week.

“I thought they were great meetings, but I don’t think we gotthe answers we wanted,” said Ward Five Alderman Craig “Bowie”Davis.

Aldermen met with Mississippi congressmen to discuss a widerange of economic development issues facing the town. Among themwere the long-awaited Army National Guard armory, the Highway 27evacuation route and the El Camino Real, a project to four-laneHighway 84 from Georgia to southern Texas.

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However, aldermen were not encouraged by what they heard,especially in regards to the armory.

“It will come, but probably not very quickly,” Davis said.

Mississippi Adjutant General Harold Cross and state legislatorsvoiced their support of the project, but said funding would be hardto come by. Cross told aldermen that it was a priority of his andwould be placed high on the next list of priority armories, whichwill be released in November 2008, said Ward Two Alderman SteveMoreman.

However, Moreman added, that means a 2010 or 2012 completiondate is far more likely than the 2008 date aldermen had hopedfor.

Local officials have already done all they can to facilitate theproject. In June 2005, the county purchased nearly 16 acres on landadjacent to Highway 84 Bypass across Highway 27 from the existingarmory under the belief construction was imminent. The state alsoappropriated $2.5 million in matching funds for a federal grant.The grant, however, did not get funded following a change inleadership in federal chambers.

In addition to replacing the aging armory, the new armory, whichincludes meeting rooms and a civic area, is projected to provide 10to 12 full-time Army positions.

Louisiana parish presidents, county supervisors, municipalofficials and legislators met during a breakfast during the trip toencourage federal lawmakers to support a project that wouldfour-lane a designated evacuation route.

The officials, representing counties, parishes andmunicipalities along the route of Mississippi Highway 27 andLouisiana Highway 25, hoped to sway federal lawmakers to loosen theappropriation purse strings for the project.

The project would four-lane Highway 27 from the state line toCrystal Springs to provide another major evacuation artery forresidents of the New Orleans area while boosting Lawrence County’seconomic development potential.

The officials and proposal were greeted enthusiastically,Moreman said. But local officials were given no promises.

A large gathering of county and municipal officials gathered ata second breakfast to meet with legislators to urge more supportfor the El Camino Real project, which would create a four-laneHighway 84 from Georgia to southern Texas.

The proposal drew some praise, but again garnered no promises.However, states have committed individually to the project and itis progressing at a slow pace.

“We did get some good news,” Moreman said. “Mississippi, foronce, leads on something.”

Mississippi lacks only 26 miles from having completed itsportion of the project and that number should drop next monthshould the Mississippi Department of Transportation make anexpected announcement opening a portion of the highway betweenBrookhaven and Monticello, he said.

Unfortunately, Davis said, progress in some states has beenminimal.

“Some of these states have done very little so far,” hesaid.

Louisiana has only completed 16 of its 160 miles of Highway 84,he said.