Published 12:00 am Friday, March 9, 2012

Project manager Jeff Carroll (left) describes the results of a Batesville-to-Brinkley highway improvement study to Batesville businessmen William Pride (center) and Henry Heafner during a public meeting at MDOT headquarters in Batesville. Both men own car dealerships that would be affected by a bypass. The Panolian photo by Billy Davis

‘What about the bypass?’  repeated plenty at meet

By Billy Davis

Professionally prepared maps ringed the MDOT meeting room, showing highway traffic counts, and wetlands in the Delta, and five proposed routes for connecting Batesville, Miss. to Arkansas cities.

But it seemed everybody who came to the MDOT public meeting Tuesday wanted to know the status of the proposed — coming? — Batesville bypass.

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

“Nobody knows nothing,” declared Sue Roberts, who owns an 89-acre hay farm along Eureka Road with husband Scott.

If the bypass is ever built, it would divide the farm in half and take about 20 acres of the property, said the couple.

Wooden stakes are in the ground marking the proposed route, which Scott Roberts said he had to remove last fall to cut hay.

“They were in the way,” he said. “So I pulled them up.”

The proposed bypass would include an interchange at Highway 6 West. It would loop south of the highway for approximately 10 miles, then reconnect to Highway 6 east of Batesville.

The proposed bypass is part of a larger MDOT plan that would four-lane Highway 6 from Batesville to Clarksdale, and replace the Highway 6 overpass in west Batesville over the railroad tracks.

The purpose of the public meeting was to publicize the “Highway 49 Feasibility Study,” a proposal to improve traffic flow from Interstate 55 in Batesville through the Mississippi Delta into Arkansas.  

A congressional earmark in Arkansas funded the study of the corridor improvements.

The public meeting included maps of five proposed routes. Three of the five routes would include new construction a mile west of Marks, with a newly constructed highway traveling north from there through Lula to Helena, Ark. The costliest version of the three plans is estimated at $924 million.

The two other highway improvements would follow Highway 6 to Clarksdale. One of them would then travel north on existing Highway 61 before veering west to Helena then to Brinkley. Instead of the Brinkley route, the second version would improve the route from Helena to Forrest City, Ark.

The Batesville-to-Brinkley route is the more expensive, estimated at $895 million.

When they signed in, meeting attendees were given handouts that described the five various routes. In each description of the project, a “designed Batesville bypass” was included as part of the project.

When the public meeting began, MDOT officials led visitors around the room from map to map to explain the study, and several officials were overheard fielding questions about the bypass.

“This meeting is not about the bypass,” they were overheard explaining more than once.

In one corner of the meeting room, Panola Countians surrounded MDOT District Engineer Richard Allen and peppered him with comments and questions about the bypass.  

When a reporter asked Allen for comment about the bypass, he said that MDOT is “working on the plans” for the project.

“When we will start any right of way acquisition, that’s uncertain at this time,” he said.

“I have not gotten a definite answer on anything,” Henry Heafner, the prominent Batesville businessman, told a reporter.

“I was told two years ago they would be buying up land,” said Heafner, who owns pastureland just south of Batesville on the proposed bypass route.