TUPELO — The Mississippi Transportation Commission has authorized the Mississippi Department of Transportation to submit an application for approval to designate U.S. Highway 78 as Interstate 22 in north Mississippi.
The highway, which connects Memphis to Birmingham via New Albany, Tupelo and Fulton, requires an approval process in federal law but it already meets all interstate standards and will connect with an interstate within 25 years.
The Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal reports U.S. 78 was congressionally designated as a future interstate corridor under leadership of U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., beginning when he was a member of the U.S. House. It will connect to Interstate 269 in Mississippi once construction is complete. The connector in Alabama will be Interstate 65 north of downtown Birmingham.
Federal law formerly required a physical interstate connection for designation but that was changed in 2012 under President Obama, MDOT spokesman Jason Scott said.
A Memphis-Birmingham connector has long been sought to make a four-lane artery from Memphis to Atlanta. Interstate 22 accomplishes that goal.
“As expansion and growth continue in north Mississippi, I-22 will play a vital role in promoting safety and economic development throughout the region,” Transportation Commissioner Mike Tagert said in a prepared statement.
The process to designate an interstate is typically a lengthy one, but changes were introduced in the “Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act” (MAP-21) allowing states to request an interstate designation once the route meets federal standards and there are plans for the route to connect to the existing interstate system within 25 years. U.S. 78 meets those requirements. It was built to federal standards and connects to the existing interstate system in Tennessee.