During an address to the DeSoto County Economic Development Council Infrastructure Committee, Northern District Transportation Commissioner Mike Tagert called the I-269 project "the crown jewel" among transportation projects in the state of Mississippi.

For the first time officially, Tagert, who is transportation commissioner over a 33-county region, went on record to state the long anticipated project should be completed by the 2017-18 fiscal year.

Tagert also disclosed to the standing-room-only crowd that five of the seven segments for the I-269 loop through eastern DeSoto County to Hwy. 385 are under contract.

"Everything is on schedule," Tagert said, adding that $160 million in construction on I-269 has been let on the project.

Other projects by MDOT in the region include the installation of cable safety barriers on highways 304 and 713.

Tagert said the environmental impact study on the widening of Star Lansing Road is being done and efforts are being made to rejuvenate the Greenways program series of projects in DeSoto County and elsewhere.

The pedestrian trail/ bike path in Hernando is still in the pipeline.

DeSoto County's leadership was praised for its overall infrastructure planning process.

Melina McGrath, P.E. Executive Director of the Mississippi Department of Transportation effused praise for DeSoto County.

"I travel all over the state and I want to let you know, you are the most forward-thinking and have the best planning capability of any county in the state. You should be proud of yourselves and are definitely to be commended."

Tagert disclosed that Sections of I-269 from Hwy. 302 to the Tennessee line and U.S. Hwy. 78 to the Tennessee line will likely open before other sections.

Tagert also revealed that Interstate 22 could be designated before the end of the year.

Pragati Srivastava, Memphis Metropolitan Organization Coordinator, said federal transportation funds are at a premium.

"In these hard economic times we know that we need to try to do things which will improve the quality of life," Srivistava said. 

She said a transit study was conducted in DeSoto County to determine the mass transit needs of the region and it will be released by the end of the year.

A third bridge over the Mississippi River has been discussed with its location remaining to be determined.

Construction will begin on the $14 million Harahan pedestrian bridge from memphis to West Memphis by the end of the year as well.

"We have to look at all modes of transportation and what are the bicycle and pedestrian needs as well," she said. "Another thing which is critical for the Mid-South are the freight needs." Light rail has also been discussed in the mix of future transportation projects.

"In DeSoto County we were getting a lot of earmarks before to complete projects but that is now gone," Srivastava said.

DeSoto County is included in the MPO area which is one of 300 such planning districts across the nation.

Robert Lee Long: rlong@desototimestribune.com or at 662-429-6397, Ext. 252

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