Interstate 269, the nation's newest transportation corridor, is expected to open this fall — specifically during the time frame of September through November with a targeted date of Sept. 20 eyed by MDOT officials.

"It would be great if we could do it on Sept. 20 — that's the 68th anniversary of the completion of Interstate 55 through DeSoto County," Northern District Transportation Commissioner Mike Tagert told news media gathered on a paved portion of the super highway.

The time schedule marks the first time that the Mississippi Department of Transportation has been that specific on a date for opening of I-269 which connects I-69 from Tunica to Hwy. 385 near Collierville.

Tagert held a press conference on the shoulder of the unfinished I-269 to unveil one of MDOT's newest inspection tools, a state-of-the-art drone which is being used to inspect hundreds of miles of roadway and bridges, including I-269.

Tagert said use of the ten-pound drone, which on a windy Wednesday was able to withstand a strong headwind without crashing to the ground — thanks to on board computer-controlled stabilizers — helps protect the lives of MDOT employees tasked with inspecting many of the state's most dangerous bridges and roadways in need of repair.

"These things save us a tremendous amount of money," Tagert said. "This is the future from a bridge inspection standpoint. It's much safer than putting an employee out there."

Tagert said MDOT has aerial drone footage of the entire length of I-269, along with footage of miles and miles of roadway and bridges. The drones can fly as high as 400 feet above ground level.

"It demonstrates the quality of the technology that we have," Tagert said.

The retired U.S. Marine said drones are also useful in surveying damage to infrastructure in the wake of tornadoes and hurricanes and that information can be shared and coordinated with emergency first responders.

Tagert said drones have more practical applications as well.

"In Panola County, drone footage may be used to illustrate road realignment over the Tallahatchie River as part of a bridge replacement project," Tagert said. "Speaking of bridges, in Tate County, drone footage helped diagnose flood damage at the Interstate 55 Hickahala Creek Bridge. The drone data showed a significant scour hole that was repaired and kept the bridge stable and safe to the traveling public."

Other uses include inventory management of road signs, roadway striping and other highway infrastructure. During times of traffic congestion, drone footage helps address traffic flow and possible alternate routes.

The drone aircraft have a three-mile operating range and images are 20 megapixel in clarity.

'Drones are a very cost effective tool," Tagert said.

Robert Lee Long is Community Editor of the DeSoto Times-Tribune. He may be contacted at rlong@desototimestribune.com or at 662-429-6397, Ext. 252.

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