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County leaders optimistic over road work help

Lincoln County officials returned from their annual meeting withMississippi’s congressional delegation in Washington, D.C.,Wednesday with high hopes for future federal assistance for a pairof infrastructure projects.

Lincoln County Chancery Clerk Tillmon Bishop said federalofficials were most interested in a pair of projects to repairIndustrial Park Road in Brookhaven and to upgrade Bogue Chitto Roadin southern Lincoln County, two highway projects that accounted for$2.5 million of the county’s six-item, $5.8 million list.

“There’s a few more avenues to get funding on transportationissues because there are transportation bills that come along everyyear,” he said. “It’s a given that one of the responsibilities offederal government is infrastructure, so on projects like these,you’ll always get some interest.”

Supervisors have often discussed repairs to Industrial ParkRoad, an important thoroughfare for approximately 2,000 workers whouse it to travel in and out of the Brookhaven Industrial Park,Bishop said.

Over the years, heavy trucks have worn the road down, leavinglong ruts that collect rainwater and make driving hazardous.Supervisors submitted a project to repair the road to the Office ofState Aid Construction, hoping to acquire funding from the recentfederal stimulus package, but were turned down.

If the county receives the $1.5 million federal appropriationit’s looking for, Industrial Park Road will be repaired from UnionStreet to Old Highway 51, more than half its length, said DistrictFour Supervisor Doug Moak.

“They knew it had to do with jobs, and maintaining jobs,” hesaid of the senators and congressmen. “I get the feeling that, withthe economy we’re experiencing now, they relate more to what ittakes to have jobs, keep jobs and get people to their jobs.”

Moak said he and other county officials made the senators andcongressmen understand life in Lincoln County in the midst ofcontraflow – when thousands of Louisianans make their way upInterstate 55 and Highway 51 to escape hurricanes – to convey theneed for upgrades to Bogue Chitto Road.

“The Bogue Chitto exit is the first stop they come to, the firstopportunity they have to get off the interstate,” he said. “Theevacuation is a difficult time for the evacuees – people arefrustrated from the traffic already, and they’re looking for achance to bail out.”

If the county receives its requested $1 million federalappropriation, plans are to bring the portion of Bogue Chitto Roadfrom Interstate 55 to Bogue Chitto up to State Aid standards -widening and resurfacing it to accommodate more traffic, Moak said.He said it is the only part of the road that is not up to State Aidstandards.

Moak said the project would allow contraflow traffic an earlyexit from the interstate and a second approach into southernBrookhaven, taking some of the pressure off the interstate’sbottleneck point just north of the Bogue Chitto exit, wherecontraflow ends.

Moak said the congressional delegation thought an early exitpoint from contraflow traffic would be “a good thing to have.”

“From everything they heard about the hurricane and theevacuations, they thought it would warrant some assistance,” hesaid.

Though county officials said the Washington trip went well,Bishop pointed out that the only true measure of a fundingrequest’s success is when the appropriation is made. Most of thecounty’s trips to Washington result in at least one item on thelist being funded, he said, though he said this year’s trip wastaken in “a new era.”

“We have not only a new administration, but a new economicclimate and a new delegation,” Bishop said. “[Sen. Roger] Wickerdoesn’t have the seniority his predecessor had, and neither does[Rep. Gregg] Harper. They’ll tell you – you have to be around alittle while. But they’re working real hard. They were veryreceptive to our needs and will do all they can to help us.”

About the only sure result of county officials’ trip toWashington is that they know how to play the game. District ThreeSupervisor Nolan Earl Williamson said senators, congressmen andtheir staffs all remarked on county officials’ presentation andpreparation.

“We got bragged on, really,” he said. “Everybody complimented uson the way we handled ourselves, the material we had and the way wepresented it. They said very few come in there asking for somethingthat are as uniform as we were. I’m like everybody else – I waswanting to come home with a check in my pocket. But that was anencouragement to us.”