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Smithville bypass unlikely any time soon

smithville2Smithville need not fret over the prospect that a Mississippi Highway 25 bypass will leave the town’s Central Business District to decay and die.

At least not for a couple more decades, says Bill Jamison, Northern District engineer for the Mississippi Department of Transportation.

Federal and state money is unlikely to be available for realigning and widening the highway in Monroe County, he said. “With the way funds have gotten now, to say in the next 20 years would probably be as good a guess as any,” he said in an interview this week.

Should the routing of the widened road take it a mile or so outside of town, in 20 years Smithville will have annexed the route and stand to benefit from the businesses that grow up along it, said Mayor Gregg Kennedy.

Legislators last year waived a requirement for controlled access along the Smithville stretch of the bypass – should it ever be built. The waiver would allow motorists to have access to whatever businesses spring up along a set portion of the bypass.

Kennedy hasn’t given up on the state running the widened highway along its current route through Smithville’s downtown. The right of way is already there — and the EF-5 tornado of April 27, 2011 cleared most of the structures from the right of way, he noted..

More immediately, Kennedy and his neighbors hope that a grocery will open to replace the Piggly Wiggly the tornado destroyed.

“It’s just a matter of time before somebody comes in,” he predicted.

However, the wait could be longer than many in Smithville think, according to Craig High, a Neel Schafter & Co. strategic planner who helped the town with its recently completed comprehensive plan.

While the Piggly Wiggly enjoyed the benefit of having already paid for the building it occupied, a new owner would have to bear those building costs as an operations expense, High said. “You can’t replace a building that was costing $12 a square foot with a building that will cost $25 a square foot. That is what the struggle is.”

High said he doesn’t see a grocery chain coming to Smithville anytime soon. “The only way you are going to get a grocery is if someone wants to run a local grocery store,” he said.

A new store may even require a public subsidy of some sort, High added.

Meanwhile, Smithville residents will have to continue to rely on a Dollar General for food and household items. “It’s the number two Dollar General in sales for the entire Southeastern U.S.,” Mayor Kennedy said. “Any time of day the parking lot is full.”

Meanwhile, the town will continue to see new construction replacing the mobile units businesses have occupied since the tornado, he added.

He expects to break ground on a new town hall in early spring and last week Access Family Medical awarded a $1.9 million contract for construction of a new clinic.

Like Access Family Medical, Renasant Bank has been operating out of temporary trailer facilties. The bank said last year it intends to build anew.

The comprehensive land-use plan contemplates Smithville’s population increasing three- to four-fold over the next 20 years, according to Mayor Kennedy.

The stage been set for that by the work that will either be getting underway or completed in the coming months, he said.

>>KEEP READING Smithville transitions from devastation to setting vision for future

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