QUITMAN — Passing through the east central Mississippi town on U. S. 45 is tedious, to put it mildly. Highway 45 becomes Archusa Avenue — the main drag — and
all of the through traffic, including heavy log and construction trucks, is mixed up with local citizens headed for the bank, post office, home or just cruising.
“It gets very congested, especially in the afternoon, on this main street,” Robert Smith, president of Quitman’s Great Southern National Bank said. “It’s dangerous to some
degree and a lot of times our folks have trouble turning into our drive-thru. You know, a lot of traffic doesn’t necessarily make business good.”
Then there’s the noise factor.
Mayor Tommy Blackburn recalled a recent proclamation ceremony on the courthouse lawn on Archusa Avenue.
“The public address system tore up, and people couldn’t even hear me because of the trucks going by,” he said.
But the mayor quickly disclaimed any animosity to the economically valuable logging industry and their trucks.
However, relief is in sight. Construction is almost complete on a Highway 45 bypass of the city. The new project is slightly more than three miles east of downtown, and
stretches about eight miles from just north of Clarkco State Park to Desoto, a small community south of Quitman.
As the county seat of Clarke County, Quitman is a bustling town of 3,000 lying in the shadow of Meridian, 24 miles up Highway 45 to the north. The county has 18,000
people with an economic base heavily dependent on the timber and textile industries.
Burlington Industries is the county’s largest employer with 1,000 workers weaving textiles in Stonewall, some eight miles northwest of Quitman. Until 1972, Bank of
Quitman (now Great Southern National Bank) was the only bank in town. Today it has four banks and a credit union. “Quitman must be a hot place, so to speak,” banker
Despite a few misgivings, the community is anxiously looking forward to the diversion of traffic that, with a few exceptions, doesn’t want to be there anyway.
What has everyone in a quandary is the opening date of the nearly completed project. Smith understood that it would be open in November, whereas Clarke County
Chamber of Commerce president Buster Thomas thought it would be open by the end of the year. Mayor Blackburn, based on conversations with District Transportation
Commissioner Wayne Brown, opined that an opening date was uncertain.
When Brown was told in a recent phone conversation of these widely varying predictions, he chuckled and responded, “They got it exactly right.” He said the uncertainty
is based on many imponderables including a seasonal shortage of funds and possible bad weather when funds become available. Pressed for his own prediction, he
hedged, but thought opening day should come prior to Jan. 1. Everyone agrees that the bypass will have considerable impact on the community.
Naturally, discussions of those most likely to lose business revolve around fast food and gasoline sales, and the town’s only motel.
In addition to being this year’s chamber president (“It’s been an enjoyable experience”), Buster Thomas is also president of Quitman’s branch of First State Bank. As for
his take on the bypass, “It’s going to do wonders as a transportation viaduct and be much safer. It will give us quicker access to Meridian, but you always have some fear
of the unknown.
“It’s going to be that pass-through transit traffic we’re going to miss. If you go up here to Hardee’s in the morning, you’ll see 10-15 cars parked in there with out-of-state
tags, mostly Alabama. There’s a good possibility you won’t see those.”
The incomplete bypass has already caused some “inching” eastward. Chamber president Thomas has heard that some options have been purchased at the interchanges
for likely service businesses. And Mayor Blackburn disclosed that, “Our industrial park property has been used up, so we have been working with the Clarke County
Economic Development Board in trying to purchase at least 100 acres for a new industrial park out there (between town and the bypass).”
The bypass is but a small blip on the screen of the massive statewide highway four-lane construction program. Highway 45 is already four-laned north to Meridian, and
work is going on apace south to Waynesboro.
Leave it to Realtor Jane Williams, a former president of the chamber, to wrap up for everyone: “The bypass will hurt some businesses, but when you lose something, you
gain something, and the bypass is a good thing. Quitman being the county seat, is always going to survive and the accessibility to Meridian will help bring in more retirees
who want to live in the safest town you can find.”
Contact MBJ contributing writer Bill Johnson Jr. at firstname.lastname@example.org or (601) 364-1018.