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Future 14 could become a reality for Lincoln County

For Lincoln County to enjoy the fruits of a second interstate, it will literally take an act of Congress.

I-14 is a proposed federal highway that will stretch from West Texas to the eastern edge of Georgia. For Southwest Mississippi, that means Hwy. 84 could become an interstate.

Officials recognize the plan could take years to become reality, but with the White House reportedly planning to roll out a $1 trillion infrastructure bill, leaders throughout Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi believe the window for I-14 is opening.

Garrick Combs, executive director of the Brookhaven-Lincoln County Chamber of Commerce and the Lincoln County Economic Development Foundation, said the process will start with an act of Congress designating the route.

“If that happens, I’m pretty confident an interstate will be built,” he said.

Federal Highway Administration Public Affairs specialist Neil Gaffney said the department has no information on any feasibility studies done for I-14. He said the idea for the Gulf Coast Strategic Highway is “conjecture and discussion” at this point. However, Gulf Coast Strategic Highway Coalition Executive Director Gary Bushell said the group has been working on this project in Texas and Louisiana for years, but he is now starting to see their efforts pay dividends.

In 2015, Texas received a congressional designation for the interstate mostly consisting of U.S. 190, which cuts through the center of state. This April, the first section of I-14 was officially unveiled: a 25-mile stretch of U.S. 190.

Texas is the only state that has any designated roadways for the interstate. The next step is for Louisiana and Mississippi to get on board. If the goal for 2018 is to get a congressional designation, the work toward achieving that goal begins immediately.

On Jan. 8, a delegation will meet in Laurel with Mississippi Transportation Commissioner Tom King, asking for his support on I-14. Then they’ll head to the nation’s capital. A congressional briefing would be held the week of Jan. 22 in Washington, D.C., where Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas congressional delegates will meet to garner support of I-14, including from the Mississippi Department of Transportation.

The Gulf Coast Strategic Highway Coalition currently has no plans to extend the project past Mississippi.

Bushell said he believes anything further would be unnecessary given the current highway infrastruce in Mississippi, which includes major interstates such as I-10, I-55 and I-59.

“I don’t anticipate seeing any reason why it would go past Mississippi,” Bushell said. “So far as I know, the Interstate Highway System (in Mississippi) has got the capacity it needs.”

He added, however, that Alabama and Georgia could always get on board if they desired.

“That would be up to those states, obviously,” Bushell said.

But for now, all Mississippi officials can focus on is getting the highway here.

“Having another interstate gives the potential for more commercial, industrial and distribution center growth in Lincoln County,” said Sen. Sally Doty, R-Republican, who serves on the state Highways and Transportation committee. “I believe we would see the same type of businesses that are along I-55 replicated on and east/west route. Many national chains will only locate at an interstate exit and additional exits would provide a boost to the Lincoln County economy.”

Getting the I-14 designation is the first step on a long road.

Once the route is designated, Combs and others can begin marketing the area with the understanding that Future 14 will become a reality, he said. It could take a while to get the designation, and then an even longer timeline for construction completion.

He said it took 12 years from designation of Interstate 22 — which was Hwy. 78 — to completion for motorists on the  Memphis-to-Birmingham corridor.

“The plan at the moment is to work with neighboring states — Texas and Louisiana — to work together to get the designation, then we’ll start marketing ourselves as a two-interstate county,” said Combs.

Future 14 will impact Lincoln County in several ways, he said.

“It’s going to dramatically increase traffic counts throughout the area, spur commercial and retail development around Hwy. 51 and 84,” he said. “It should increase our favorability to companies who need to move lots of goods.”