By BECKY GILLETTE
The Madison County Board of Supervisors (BOS) has renewed its efforts to find a way to build an interchange at Reunion Parkway and Interstate-55.
“For economic development and transportation, it is very important,” said BOS President Trey Baxter, “We have a parkway we need to connect from the west side of Madison with the east side. The county developed the east side of four-lane Parkway East years ago. Until we get the interchange, it is stagnant.”
Central District Commissioner Dick Hall said while he understands the need for the new interchange, there is no money for it.
“We don’t have money to take care of what we have, let alone build a new interchange,” Hall said. “Could we get the legislature to appropriate new funds? Possibly. But until we get some new state and federal programs, there aren’t going to be new interchanges being built. Certainly Madison County needs some, Rankin County needs some, and other growing areas of state need new interchanges. But we don’t have money to even consider this until both the U.S. Congress and Mississippi legislature enact new highway programs.”
Hall said he had a conversation with president-elect Donald Trump when he was running for office.
“He says he is doing to do everything he can to create a new infrastructure program,” Hall said. “I hope he is able to do that.”
Hall is a Republican and said that Republication Ronald Reagan deserves credit for pushing through a fuel tax enacted by Congress that built roads, and invested in water and wastewater systems. But in recent years most Republicans have opposed tax increases of any type.
“It is time for them to step forward and say if we are going to compete in this global economy, we’re going to need a transportation infrastructure that is competitive,” Hall said. “Certainly, Mississippi has to do it. Number one, it is a safety issue. Second, it is a serious economic issue.”
Hall refers to the 1987 four-lane highway program as the most important economic act of the state in the past half century. Without in, there would have been no Nissan or Toyota manufacturing plants or many other industrial and commercial developments. But that 1987 program provided $3 billion to build new four-lane highways—and not a nickel to maintain them.
Hall said the Reunion interchange discussion has been going on for a very long time.
“I know there is a need for it, just as there is a need to four lane highway 463,” Hall said. “It is desperately needed, too. But we just don’t have the money to do it. But that isn’t going to happen until a new highway program is funded by some act of the legislature.”
Sen. Eugene “Buck” Clarke, who represents part of Madison County and is chairman of Senate Appropriations Committee, said legislators do their best allocating the resources they have. But there is a lot of competition for those resources.
He has personal experience driving in the affected area in rush hour traffic, and knows how difficult it is.
“People can’t get through,” Clarke said. “The highway department probably gets calls about that every day. We need more problems like that in the state, a whole lot of people wanting to go places. We need economic activity.”
Clarke said he supports looking at the existing gas tax primarily for maintenance, and funding new projects like the proposed interchange with new sources of revenues. He said maintenance of deficient bridges is a priority.
“Bridges that school buses can’t go over, that is of great concern for me,” Clarke said. “It is something you just can’t ignore. We have to press and look for a way to solve this problem.”
Clarke said it might take a combination of federal, state and local funds to make the Reunion interchange happen.
BOS President Baxter is frustrated that earlier county funds that were supposed to pay for the interchange were spent on other things.
“The county borrowed $35 million to build the interchange and instead of building the interchange, they just wasted it,” Baxter said. “When I got to the board, there was one supervisor there from when they borrowed the money. When I asked where the money went, he said, ‘We paved roads with it.’ So it could have been handled differently and we would have an interchange now.”
District 3 Supervisor Gerald Steen said the Madison County Board of Supervisors has interest in investing money into the interchange because of its level of importance.
“We feel like we are going to have to put some skin in the game,” Steen said. “I believe the board interested in doing that. This is our growth area. We have had a significant issue with traffic for the past several years and we retained Neel-Schaffer to do a traffic study to best determine our needs and how to best spend taxpayer dollars. This is not only important to move traffic quickly and safely, but it will provide important economic development opportunities with the growth along the Parkway East corridor. We also looked at safer ways to enter and exit onto Interstate 55. This is a win-win for Madison County.”
Shelton Vance, interim county administrator, said the Reunion interchange would be a great asset in helping to move people to work, to school and to their other pursuits in Madison County.
“There has been substantial residential growth in the area that is targeted for this interchange,” Vance said. “It would also create significant potential for economic development.”
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