In several conversations with the Mississippi Business Journal the last couple of weeks, Madison County Board of Supervisors President Tim Johnson has said repeatedly that Dick Hall would be a hero in Madison County if Hall were to give his blessing to the Reunion Parkway interchange.
Based on Johnson’s theory, a statue of Hall might soon be erected.
Hall, the transportation commissioner for the Central District, voted last week in favor of the interchange that will connect Reunion Parkway to both sides of Interstate 55.
To move forward, the project had to earn a unanimous “yes” vote from each of the three transportation commissioners. Hall had voted “here” in October, which is the equivalent of “no,” and had handed down an outright “no” in a January meeting.
Hall said the financing of the project — Madison County Supervisors had earlier floated a $33 million road bond, $17.5 million of which will go toward Reunion — was suspect. The Mississippi Department of Transportation will kick in $6 million, and a yet-to-be named private donor has pledged another $6 million.
Another sticking point Hall had was he felt the interchange at Gluckstadt, north of Reunion, deserved priority. That interchange was originally planned to begin construction in 2013. A deal was reached that will fast-track Gluckstadt, with work starting in 2010, and will allow Reunion to forge ahead, with work possibly starting as early as this summer.
“Isn’t that great?” said Johnson. “It will be huge for the county and huge for the state. The first element the interchange will benefit is (east-west) traffic flow. And the biggest thing eventually will be the economic development. I have heard estimates that put the total number of economic development dollars at over $1 billion.”
The language in the contract voted on by MDOT commissioners allows for an environmental study of the Gluckstadt interchange to begin immediately, and for it to be completed within 12 months. The time frame for the study came up in last week’s MDOT meeting, when Hall said he wanted the study to be done in 12 months instead of the 18 months the contract originally called for.
Another amendment Hall wanted and got is the requirement of a unanimous vote of the three commissioners if the start date of the Gluckstadt interchange is ever moved.
Without these two amendments, “I had no intentions of voting for the project,” Hall said.
Reached on his cell phone after the meeting, Hall admitted he was happy to have a resolution to the conflict the Reunion and Gluckstadt interchanges have caused between him and Madison County officials.
Madison Mayor Mary Hawkins-Butler had said after Hall’s January “no” vote that she considered Hall’s stance an open declaration of war on Madison County. Hall had countered that it made no sense for Madison County taxpayers to foot the bill for an interchange that was supposed to be a state project eventually.
“It’s sad when your own commissioner doesn’t support you,” Hawkins-Butler said of Hall’s two votes to halt the project. “I certainly hope this is over. Otherwise, we’re delighted.”
All the acrimony had worn on him, Hall said.
“I’m concerned about some of the stuff we fight about sometimes,” Hall said. “But if I see somebody doing something I think is wrong in the future, then I’m going to step in and do what I think is right.”
At least two businesses have publicly said they plan to build facilities adjacent to the interchange, which is just north of Highway 463.
Chris Snopek, owner of Performance Sports Academy, is considering a plot on the east side of the interchange for a new facility. He currently operates in Flowood.
And St. Dominic Health Services has signaled its intention to build a facility, also on the east side of the interchange.
The project’s approval “finally gives us access,” said Snopek. “I know there are a lot of plans for that area.”
Contact MBJ staff writer Clay Chandler at clay.chandler@ msbusiness.com .