Officials say interstate lighting will take time

Published 5:00 am Monday, October 29, 2007

Months after the promises were laid out to finally installlights at Interstate 55’s exit 40, citizens are becoming restlessat the fact that the interchange remains dark and there are novisible signs of construction.

Local officials say, however, that plans are still underway.

“It’s going to take a while,” said Brookhaven Mayor BobMassengill. “MDOT has to get us the contract, we and the countywould have to both approve the contract and agree to providemaintenance and upkeep. Then it goes to the MississippiTransportation Commission, which acts through MDOT.”

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Lincoln County Chancery Clerk Tillmon Bishop said the issue ofinterstate lighting is definitely one that is not only a petproject for hi and Massengill, but for all of Brookhaven andLincoln County’s public officials.

“All our elected officials have been pushing for this along withour legislative delegation,” he said. “This is not a split issue asfar as whether or not we should have it. We’re all in favor of exit40 lighting, and it’s just a question of MDOT getting it done.”

Both Massengill and Bishop said state Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith hasbeen instrumental in pushing the issue through with MDOT.

“Cindy has been a big help on this,” Massengill said. “She hasbeen extremely helpful and I think deserves a significant portionof the credit. She has gotten commitments from them and I thinkwe’re going to see this project come to fruition in a large partbecause of her efforts.”

Hyde-Smith said in all her dealings with MDOT, she has beenassured by their representatives that the project is in theworks.

“As of the last time I’ve spoken with Commissioner Wayne Brownand Executive Director Butch Brown they have assured me that thisis a project that will be completed by MDOT,” she said. “Of course,the time frame is not as quickly as I would like, but I understandthat these things take time. All the contacts I have had with themhave been the same positive response, and that is, ‘Yes, Brookhavenwill get these lights.'”

Massengill said that from what he hears, the beginning of theproject could still be a number of months away.

“My best guess is that once the transportation commissionapproves it, which would be a mere formality, then it goes to theFederal Highway Commission, and they’d make final determination,”he said. “I’m thinking we’re still a number of months away. I can’ttell you how long, but if it was tomorrow it would still be late tome. This is something we needed for a long time.”

Bishop said an important variable in the project could be theupcoming Nov. 6 election.

“It is because the highway commissioners are the ones that hirethe executive director, and if there’s a change in thecommissioners then the executive director could change, then we’llhave to deal with a different set of circumstances, so we’rewatching the election closely,” he said. “If it’s actually going tohappen, my comment is, ‘Thank you,’ but if it’s not we’d certainlylike to know that, too.”

Hyde-Smith said the election question is a valid one.

“There’s always a possibility of a different administration anddifferent commissioners,” she said. “And whoever’s at MDOT I’mcertainly willing to work with and do whatever it takes to get thisproject completed. But we certainly know that there are a lot oftimes elections can change things.”

But the county will continue to plan on having lighting withinthe next few years, Bishop said, until told otherwise.

“We’ve always felt that if someone tells you they’re going to dosomething, they’re going to do it,” he said. “So until we knowdifferent we’ll count on them to come through. But it could notcome too soon from the economic development and safety issuestandpoints, and those are the two main reasons we’ve been workingon getting this done.”

Hyde-Smith agreed that the lighting at the interchange will be apositive step for the community, especially in bringing trafficinto town off the interstate.

“I think it will be such an asset to Brookhaven that when you’recoming down I-55 you’ll remember, ‘That sure was a nice town I camethrough,’ with a lot of pride,” she said.

Meanwhile, Bishop stressed the continuing urgency of theproject.

“A lot of people would probably like to stop in Brookhaven buthave passed it before they know it’s there,” he said. “I knowthings take time to get done, and wheels turn slow, but I also knowit’s still dark out there at Exit 40.”