Frontage roads catalysts for commerce

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Published: August 15,2005

When the interstate system routing through Jackson was put in place in the 1950s and 1960s, the powers-that-be didn’t include in the plan frontage roads along Interstate 20. When Interstate 220 was built, again there was no frontage road access.

“City officials made a serious mistake,” said Jackson businessman A.L. East III. “You can’t have commercial development without (frontage roads) because nobody can get to it.”

Larry Holder, managing partner of Holman Jaguar Volkswagen and Audi, managed Herrin Gear Chevrolet for six years without frontage road access to the dealership.

“It didn’t seem to bother us,” said Holder. “I think it just depends on your location. Look at Doe’s Eat Place in Greenville. It’s hidden way back there, yet people come from all over the country. It just shows that if you’ve got the products people want and good service, they’ll hunt you down.”

Even though some businesses prove to be an exception, the lack of frontage roads “not only hurts economic development, but clogs the interstate,” said Central Mississippi Transportation Commissioner Dick Hall. “That really shows in Baton Rouge.”

“Nobody around here has any idea why, 50 years ago, they decided to put frontage roads in North Jackson but not in South Jackson,” said Hall. “Then if you get frontage roads, there’s a major debate whether they should be one way or not. If you take a two-way road and make it one way, you’ll hurt local merchants. Two-way apparently helps retail business. That said, we took those frontage roads in North Jackson and made them one-way and built those Texas turnarounds and traffic now flows.”

Holder said he would prefer a two-way frontage road along I-55 in North Jackson, where the Holman Jaguar dealership is located. “Our location is a disadvantage to a certain degree because people have to go up to Briarwood and hit the frontage road coming back,” he said. “But business is doing well and so obviously people are willing to do that.”

The Mississippi Department of Transportation (MDOT) is preparing to add frontage roads along I-20 in Vicksburg, “and even now there’s a big debate,” said Hall. “Merchants at the outlet mall absolutely don’t want one-way frontage roads. In Meridian, there’s talk about making their frontage roads along I-20 one-way, but merchants are opposed to it. The issue opens up a whole can of worms.”

Metro loop

Duane O’Neill, executive director of the MetroJackson Chamber of Commerce, said loops around cities spur economic development, especially those with frontage roads.

Senate Surface Transportation Committee chairman Trent Lott recently talked to a business lunch crowd about the need for a loop around the metro area.

“We’re doing a traffic motion study right now,” said Hall. “Highway 22 runs from Bolton to Canton, and because Nissan has two Tier 1 suppliers at the Warren County Industrial Park in Vicksburg, the suggestion’s been made and has a lot of merit to four-lane that highway. If you did that, it could be the first leg of the loop, the northwest quadrant. Then the subject came up when we were trying to get Hyundai to Pelahatchie that Highway 43 runs from Pelahatchie to Canton. We could do the same thing, connect the two highways, and have half a major loop, something that’s going to make sense 30 to 40 years from now. That way, you take a lot of traffic away from The Stack because that’s all the spaghetti you can build out there.”

Texas turnaround

A few years ago, East traveled through Houston, Texas, and noticed how the interstate system was used to develop the nation’s fourth-largest city.

“Frontage roads followed the interstates with access and egress points at main thoroughfares,” he said. “The interstate worked in conjunction with dispersing traffic throughout the city and large commercial tracts were developed on frontage roads along the interstate.”

The construction of frontage roads in Texas skyrocketed under the late Dewitt Greer, chief engineer of the state highway department from 1940 to 1968 and later a highway commissioner until 1981. Texas now has 6,421 miles of frontage roads along interstate highways, many more than any other state.

However, shortly before the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, Texas highway officials quietly voted to halt the automatic construction of frontage roads. Mike McCorkle, general manager of Don McGill Toyota, located on a dealership corridor along the Katy Freeway frontage roads, told The Houston Chronicle the decision would hurt sprawling businesses, which could be reduced to “mom and pop” sales lots on one or two city blocks.

Texas lawmakers, pressured by constituents who viewed frontage roads as essential to their economic well being, proposed that future frontage roads not be eliminated completely, but be built only if certain requirements are met.

“We’re getting ready to build I-69 in the Delta and we’re going to put in a bunch of frontage roads there,” said Hall. “A good bit of I-69 is going to be along the Highway 61 route, which farmers have been using for 75 years. You can’t come in and build a limited access highway where they can’t even get to the farm across the road. We’re going to put in frontage roads for underpasses and Texas turnarounds.”

Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne W. Jeter at lwjeter@yahoo.com.

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