Smithville’s business district is on track to recover from the strongest tornado to strike Mississippi in nearly half a century. But whether or not that recovery is permanent could hinge on the future routing of Mississippi Highway 25.
The Mississippi Legislature has already approved a controlled-access realignment of a stretch of the highway from Amory to Fulton that would by-pass the business district of Smithville, a one-square-mile town in Northeast Mississippi founded as a trading post in 1851. The idea is to build a full controlled-access highway like you find on an interstate, where entrances and exits are limited, said Bill Jamieson, district engineer for Mississippi Department of Transportation’s District One.
Safety is a main benefit of controlled access with a four-lane divided highway, he said. “It’s definitely a safer route.”
That controlled-access concept is up for reconsideration in this year’s legislative session, according to Jamieson. A suggested new alignment would keep the highway routed through Smithville’s business district, likely taking the road to five lanes, he said.
“From everything I hear, they will pass it,” Jamieson said.
“We have to have the legislation changed before we can look at a new route.”
The newly proposed route is seen as a way to help Smithville continue its recovery from the catastrophic tornado that destroyed much of the Monroe County community and killed 16 townspeople April 27.
But regardless of the route chosen, the state lacks the funds for the Highway 25 project.
Under the current plan, Highway 25 would run about a quarter of a mile east of Smithville’s business district.
An interchange would likely go in at Mississippi Highway 23 and Smithville’s Hatley Road, according to Jamieson. He said a connector road would be build between the old and new Highway 25s.
State transportation planners proposed the controlled access route as a way to make the highway safer by limiting entry and exit points along it, Jamieson noted.
Tony Green, executive director of the Monroe County Chamber of Commerce, said that even though building of the new stretch of highway is years away, Smithville needs a commitment from MDOT to keep the current route. Otherwise, it’s difficult to plan for a commercial future, he said.
“Hopefully, we’ll be able to keep the main highway through downtown Smithville.”