CANTON — With the building of Nissan’s $930-million plant in Madison County, transportation officials are looking at changes beyond immediate needs to accommodate
the increased traffic in air, water, rail and road systems.
Central District Transportation Commissioner Dick Hall said the first phase of road system improvements will cost about $30 million and will include a new cloverleaf
interchange south of Canton near the plant site, and a new frontage road on Interstate 55. U.S. 51 will be five-laned, and the state will take over a couple of county roads
near Canton. With county supervision, the roads will be reconstructed and the state will maintain them.
“On I-55, from Jackson to Canton, it will be one big construction zone for quite a while,” Hall said. “We awarded the contract Nov. 14 to rebuild the Old Agency
interchange, and we’ll rebuild the Natchez Trace Bridge and widen the interstate there. That was already in the works.”
In the second round of improvements, Hall said another interchange and peripheral roads may be needed.
“When the plant opens, there are all sorts of things that may happen once we see the traffic patterns,” Hall said. “Additional work may need to be done, but that’s the kind
of problem we want.”
Hall said the impact Nissan will have on the rail or water systems, such as the ports in Vicksburg and Yazoo City, hasn’t been fully assessed.
Already, officials at Jackson International Airport, one of the fastest growing airports in the country in passenger traffic, are predicting a 4% increase in passenger traffic
this year over 1999. Last year, JIA served 1,347,104 passengers, representing a 6% increase over 1998, a 25% increase over 1997 and marking the fourth consecutive
year the passenger record has been broken.
Delta Air Lines and its affiliates, ASA and Comair, lead other airlines with a 48% market share at JIA. Southwest Airlines has a 25% market share, and American Eagle
and Northwest Airlines each have 10%. Other airlines serving JIA, which is located within 500 miles of approximately 76 major metropolitan areas and over one third of
the nation’s population, capture less than 5% of the market.
In September, TWA began offering nonstop service to St. Louis. Starting Dec. 18, U.S. Air will offer nonstop service to Charlotte, N.C.
“We haven’t looked specifically at the impact Nissan might have on passenger traffic, but anytime you’re talking 30,000 possible jobs in the area — with Nissan and
supplier plants — those people will, of course, require transportation and we’re excited to have the opportunity to serve this new influx of employees,” said Jerry Keever,
director of marketing for JIA.
Capital improvements at JIA continue at a steady pace. On Sept. 30, 1998, JIA opened an $8.3-million, 1,012-space parking garage, bringing total patron parking to 1,905.
Pending approval, capital improvement projects next year include the renovation of airport restrooms, the addition of an elevator and escalator on the east end of the
terminal, landscaping and signage.
“The big news, though, is the construction of the Mississippi International Air Cargo Center, and we feel like Nissan will play a role in helping us increase our cargo
traffic,” Keever said.
The cargo facility, located on the west side of the airport, on Highway 475, is a four-phase project that will ultimately include 450,000 square feet of warehouse and
distribution space. The first phase of the project, projected at $19.4 million, should be finished by the time Nissan opens its plant in the spring of 2003, Keever said.
Mississippi Development Authority deputy director Jay Moon said 40% of all new airplane orders are for “pure air cargo.”
“In the past, about 90% of air cargo normally traveled in the hold of a commercial airliner,” he said. “There’s so much more product moving by air now. Companies are
ordering pure air cargo airplanes. We need to pay very close attention to keeping the quality of our airports up — the service capability, warehousing and distribution
capability — and continuously upgrade them to take maximum advantage.”
Access to JIA will be greatly enhanced when the $125-million Airport Corridor project is completed. The project is currently in the design phase, according to MDOT
Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne Wilbanks Jeter at lwjeter @yahoo.com or (601) 853-3967.