Southaven Mayor Darren Musselwhite says he is more encouraged than ever that Mississippi lawmakers now see the urgent need to widen Interstate 55 following a recent visit by a delegation from DeSoto County calling for action.
Musselwhite travelled to the state capitol last week with representatives from the county Board of Supervisors, the mayors of Hernando, Walls, and Olive Branch, and officials from Horn Lake, to lobby for funding for vital transportation improvements, most notably I-55 as well as U.S. 51 and State Highway 305.
They met with key state officials to discuss widening I-55 from Goodman Road all the way down to the Commerce Street exit in Hernando. The group pointed out that I-55 goes from ten lanes from Stateline Road to Goodman Road and then drops to four lanes, which causes traffic to bottleneck and where most crashes occur on a daily basis.
Musselwhite said Southaven is at the epicenter of the problem. The road not only poses safety concerns for motorists, but is holding back development around Church Road because businesses won’t come there until the roadway is widened.
“It’s something we have expressed concerns about and have been asking for for about the last ten years,” Musselwhite said. “Any time there is a wreck on the interstate it shuts down traffic. Even on a normal day without a wreck, at 4:30 in the afternoon you can stand on the Goodman Road bridge and look south and you can see traffic stopped - not congested - but stopped on the interstate. I don’t have to tell you how dangerous that is.”
Musselwhite said MDOT has looked at the problem and agrees that I-55 is one of the most challenged interstate systems and roadways in the entire state.
The 2020 Census shows that over 50 percent of the population grown in Mississippi over the last decade has happened in DeSoto County. Musselwhite said DeSoto County in 2021 issued more car tags than any other county in the state.
“So there is no doubt there is a problem here,” Musselwhite said.
The cost to widen I-55 is estimated to be about $400 million, but Musselwhite said they are advocating that the work be done in three phases: the first phase would be to widen I-55 from Goodman to Church Road where it bottlenecks from ten lanes to our lanes; phase 2 would be to widen I-55 from Church Road to Interstate 269; and phase 3 would be to widen I-55 from I-269 to Hernando.
Musselwhite said the state is sitting on an unprecedented amount of federal transportation dollars that could be applied to fixing the problem.
“It is a massive project, but that’s what we have been asking for,” Musselwhite said. “That is the ultimate solution. There is a tremendous opportunity for the state of Mississippi right now.”
Musselwhite said the group also presented lawmakers with signatures from an online petition called drivingdesoto.org showing widespread support from area residents and businesses who travel on the interstate daily and experience the delays.
“It is important to our state officials to know that this is not just the mayor of Southaven or DeSoto County supervisors or Hernando or Olive Branch or Walls or Horn Lake,” Musselwhite said. “I think that sends a better message to them so they can get a better feel of the magnitude of the problem.”
Musselwhite said he thought the delegation from DeSoto County was well received and that the meetings were the most productive that he has ever been involved in.
“We’re not getting shovels ready tomorrow,” Musselwhite said. “But I will say that the meetings were different from any other meetings I’ve had over the last ten years. I am encouraged by that and I hope that it continues to materialize.”