Obama stimulus plan may aid national forest road in need

Published 6:00 am Thursday, December 4, 2008

Funding help through President-elect Barack Obama’s proposed$500 billion economic stimulus package may trickle from Washington,D.C. all the way down to Lincoln County, depending on the outcomeof a former county engineer’s visit to Washington, D.C. nextweek.

Pickering, Inc., Engineer Carl Ray Furr is scheduled to visitwith Mississippi’s congressional leadership next week to determineif a county road project that traverses federal lands in theHomochitto National Forest is eligible for government funding underObama’s New Deal-like stimulus initiative. The bill aims to createapproximately 2.5 million jobs through public works projects likeinfrastructure improvement.

The project to pave eight miles of Caseyville Road from theLincoln/Franklin County line to U.S. Highway 550 – which began witha $2 million federal appropriation through the SurfaceTransportation Reauthorization Bill in 2005 – is the only countyproject Furr is still involved in. Furr, who had county engineerfor 20 years, earlier this year.

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He said a fully paved Caseyville Road would offer motorists asmooth ride from U.S. Highway 98 in Franklin County through LincolnCounty and into Copiah County and should be well-used.

“If there’s an opportunity to put it through the stimulus bill,we’re ready to go with that,” he said. “I’m going up there on otherbusiness, but we’ll be behind the scenes, working for LincolnCounty on this.”

Furr said he had to put the project’s name in the federal hat tomake sure that if the stimulus bill is passed, Caseyville Road willreceive a specific earmark. Chances are that the bill will pass, ascongressional Democrats are preparing to have the legislation readyfor the president-elect to sign when he takes office inJanuary.

If there is no specific appropriation made, Furr said the bill’seconomic jumpstart funding would be distributed to the MississippiDepartment of Transportation for distribution as the agency seesfit, and an allotment to the Office of State Aid Road Constructionmay not take place.

“If the money isn’t diverted, MDOT will swallow the money in abig, black hole,” Furr said. “If you don’t have guidance up there[in Washington, D.C.], sometimes a specific program in Mississippican get left behind.”

Furr said plans are to advertise for bids for the CaseyvilleRoad project early next year no matter what. However, the countycould save a sizeable amount of money if a federal appropriation issecured.

Dungan Engineering, PA Principal Jeff Dungan – the currentcounty engineer – said in supervisors’ Monday meeting that theproject is short “a few million dollars.” He said the project is “aposter child project for a funding bill for infrastructure” becauseof its ready-to-go nature. All the planning has been done for theproject, he said.

“It’s my understanding that [Congress] don’t want to put abillion dollars into planning, they want to move,” Dungan said. “Wewant to remind the right people that if they want to stimulate theeconomy, we’ve got a job.”

District Five Supervisor Gary Walker said the Caseyville Roadproject has not yet begun because construction prices have gone upsince the project was planned. He said the originally appropriated$2 million was used to acquire rights of way and move undergroundinfrastructure like telephone and water lines out of the way.

Walker said there still a few rights of way that must beacquired before the project begins – federal assistance or not -but he is confident that Furr can secure an earmark.

“I think there’s a good shot – he’s got a lot of contacts upthere in Washington,” Walker said.

If Furr successfully secures an earmark for the project, itwould mark Lincoln County’s first interaction with the newpresident and his policies. And while a $500 billion stimuluspackage is not a common thing for the United States, divertingfederal funds to local projects happens often.

“It would be the same type of thing as [funding for] LinbrookBusiness Park,” Dungan said. “That was a federal appropriation.[Caseyville Road] would be even more common because it’s through anational forest. This has more federal connections than the averagelocal project.”