DESOTO COUNTY — The public gets to ride the preparation trail for six additional months for DeSoto County’s long-awaited Interstate 69/269 International Trade Corridor study, launched in 2010 and now slated for completion by June 30, 2013.
The pivotal blueprint — intended to guide development for decades along the route through DeSoto County — originally was due to be presented to the county board of supervisors by the end of this year, but the delay is viewed as a boon. Swirling visions ranging from new schools and industries to park venues get time to jell.
“We’re through the ninth inning and now we’re into extra innings,” said Supervisor Mark Gardner of Southaven. “There’s no sense stopping when we’re so close; we’re happy to allow the time.”
“This is a good thing,” said DeSoto Planning director Ted Garrod. “We’ve gotten a lot of data still to be reviewed and refined, and a lot of comments from the public that we want to incorporate further, and this gives us and our consultants the opportunity to do that.”
That extra time is the vehicle for more public input sessions early next year and preparations are under way.
“You can’t have too much public participation,” said Tom Haysley, the recently designated deputy planning director who is shepherding the study. At the end of the day or road, it’s the community’s plan with the people’s preferred alternatives, he said.
Garrod told supervisors recently that a shared grant through the Mississippi Department of Transportation and the Memphis Metropolitan Planning Organization with Cincinnati-based consultants McBride Dale Clarion was being extended to June 30.
The budget-conscious supervisors were glad to hear that MDOT and the MPO had endorsed the extension, and “there’s no added cost,” said Garrod.
Interstate 69, viewed as a magnet for job growth and residential, health, educational and recreational opportunity, will cross the U.S. from Canada to Mexico with DeSoto as the buckle on the belt.
The study area covers approximately 112,700 acres — about 180 square miles — within DeSoto County, roughly bounded from two miles north and two miles south of the existing alignment of I-69 and the proposed alignment of I-269, and from U.S. Highway 61 to the Marshall County line.
A series of “stakeholder” sessions coordinated by Younger and Associates, the latest in July at the Landers Center in Southaven, drew dozens of area residents, business representatives and officials to share ideas.
The county Planning Commission, acting as the study’s steering committee, also has been a public avenue for input, and lending further help are three local advisory groups — economic, technical and government.
The June extension also gives DeSoto’s planning duo more time to tackle the blueprint.
Garrod arrived in March to replace Jim McDougal. Haysley, formerly DeSoto’s grants administrator, came aboard only on Oct. 1, succeeding Gina Tynan, who joined McDougal at the Memphis Area Association of Governments.
“Since I’ve started, the study has been before the Planning Commission twice, with parts of the draft document reviewed. Right now it’s being commented on by the commission and next it will be offered up for comment by any government agencies that may be affected by the I-69/269 route,” Haysley said.
The corridor study’s approach takes a broad sweep, he said, “on impacts and how the county can best manage those impacts and still maintain the quality of life that we have here. It takes in everything, from transportation infrastructure to schools to sewage to the impact on the sheriff’s department and public safety.”
Gardner has attended as a stakeholder every input session since the study started in the fall of 2010, before his election as a supervisor in November 2011. And he realizes the stakes.
“I remember as a youth in the 1960s when Interstate 55 was being built,” said Gardner. “You could only drive as far south as Vaiden and then you had to switch to U.S. 51 to head toward the Gulf Coast. Now it’s going on 40 years since I-55 was finished and look at the impact all along its length in Mississippi.
“We have an incredible opportunity now with I-69: I like to call it a blank canvas. At this exit maybe there’s a shopping center or medical facility, maybe there’s housing at this exit. It’s a great chance to affect our future,” Gardner said.
From April through June of this year, McBride consultants worked with the steering panel and staff to create and refine several possible future scenarios. Documents, answers to questions and discussion are available at the project’s website at http://www.desotodiscovery.com.
The site also shows the Mississippi Department of Transportation’s construction schedule for work on I-69/269, with several sections slated for completion and ready for traffic from October 2015 to January 2018.
The plan doesn’t commit any money: That’s a decision for government and taxpayers. But the plan will include an implementation section that will make recommendations about best practices along the corridor.