It exists in two parts — a completed roadway from Indianapolis, Ind., to the Canadian border and then a mostly-proposed extension southwest to the Mexican border in Texas, with a small section already in place in Northwest Mississippi and other states.
Once the so-called “superhighway” is open for traffic, it is expected by many to bring more jobs and economic development to the Mississippi Delta.
What is not so certain is when the Mississippi portions of the transcontinental roadway will be completed.
In Oct. 2006, the first Mississippi segment of I-69 opened to traffic between a point near U.S. 61 north of Tunica at the county line and I-55 north of Hernando. The south end is an at-grade intersection with the former route of Highway 304 near Tunica, where Highway 713 continues west to U.S. 61.
There is no mistaking that the casino industry and the revenue it generates has changed the landscape of Tunica County. With access to adequate transportation and inter-modal forms of getting to and from one place to another, new highways in Northwest Mississippi have become a major source of growth and potential development.
“I can say with confidence that we’ve listed I-69 and its completion as a high priority,” said Webster Franklin, president of the Tunica Convention & Visitors Bureau. “So far, it’s created an ease of access for workers, residents and tourists coming from the east. Eventually, it will open up a whole lot of things for the region.”
Still, progress is slow.
Mississippi Department of Transportation spokeswoman Carrie Adams says that highway construction in the state has been hampered over the past two decades by several components.
“The ability to construct and maintain highways has been affected by factors such as a flat, and more recently, a declining revenue stream,” she said, adding that those factors included the increased cost of construction and maintenance, increased costs and time in complying with recent changes to environmental regulations and more fuel-efficient vehicles.
“Constructing highways in accordance with today’s environmental regulations requires 10-12 years,” Adams said. “What this means is that once a DOT falls behind the curve, a tremendous amount of time and resources are needed to catch up.”
Currently, MDOT has divided the remainder of the I-69 Mississippi project into several areas of study.
“The completion of the project can’t help but be a tremendous boost to the Mississippi Delta,” said Justin Thigpen, executive director for the Cleveland-Bolivar County Chamber of Commerce. “It will do us a world of good, bringing jobs and more opportunity for economic development.”
Thigpen says that no matter when I-69 is completed, the Delta region still has to do its part.
“We have a lot of work to do, regardless of when the highway is built,” he said. “When we know exactly when and where it’s coming through, we can begin purchasing land for an industrial park and other development.”
Franklin says he is not sure that a completed I-69 will bring more people to the region but “what it will do will make it easier to compete economically and cause additional growth.”