Editorial 9/19/2014

Published 12:00 am Friday, September 19, 2014

Neglect of state’s NW corner apparent in condition of bridges

A recent editorial in the Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal stated, “Northeast Mississippians can review 2014 and see significant infrastructure accomplishments for the broader good, especially in completion and opening of new highways and thoroughfares for safety and economic development.”

It’s too bad that Northwest Mississippians can’t see the same prosperity.

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It has finally come to the attention of many about the deteriorating condition of bridges on the Highway 6/278 corridor between Batesville and Clarksdale. Heavy trucks face severe restrictions and those hauling grain to market are limited to about one-third of their previously permitted load to be legal—this in the Mississippi Delta during harvest season.

How did this happen?

One factor could be the area was passed over during the 1990s in favor of the highway funds being spent on roads to the casinos where the “golden eggs” of tax revenue were being produced.

A decade later Katrina came through and devoured the Mississippi Gulf Coast and all that was there. Quite naturally roadway infrastructure in the Southern District received the lion’s share of attention for several years.

But even before Katrina plans were being made for a highway bypass and four-lane and improvements that would connect Batesville’s I-55 and Highway 35 to Clarksdale via the current Highway 6/278 corridor. That would have been the largest construction project in Panola County since I-55 came through in the early 1960s.

Then the economy went south around 2008 and the political landscape and local leadership changed and those plans were dropped quicker than you can say, “Whoa, Nellie.”

We are back to square one, basically where we were decades ago.

Is it coincidence that more than one-half the bridges either deficient or functionally obsolete in the state of Mississippi are located in our MDOT District Two?

Is it coincidence that highway commissioners for the Northern District usually come from the eastern or northeastern portion of the Northern District?

It’s no secret that Mississippi’s funding formula is out-of-whack. We tax a gallon of gas the same at $3 as we did when it was 65 cents per gallon even though automobiles now get much better fuel mileage.

But it’s also no secret that the squeaky wheel gets the oil.

Delta Council, the area economic development organization started in 1935 to foster agriculture and business throughout an 18-county area, knows the situation. Their executive director, Chip Morgan, assures that his agency has been aware of the developing situation and has taken action to find a solution. The organization has strong ties to both Jackson and Washington.
The late Monroe Short who served as Panola County’s engineer and was both a student and receptacle of local history, is alleged to have blamed the decreasing economy in North Panola on the construction of Sardis Dam.

He alleged that construction of that reservoir rerouted the east-west corridor that previously took traffic headed to and from the Delta through Sardis.

With the new lake and no bridges, that traffic was then routed through Batesville which now is the area’s crossroads and economic hub.

Somebody needs to start squeaking.