Mike Tagert - Darren Musselwhite

Southaven Mayor Darren Musselwhite (left) discusses transportation issues with Northern Transportation Commissioner Mike Tagert at the conclusion of Wednesday’s Southaven Chamber of Commerce Quarterly Luncheon at the Landers Center.

Northern District Transportation Commissioner Mike Tagert told Southaven business leaders this week that several highway projects affecting them continue moving forward and at faster than expected speed.

Tagert, speaking to those attending the Southaven Chamber of Commerce Quarterly Luncheon at the Landers Center, said the I-269 construction work continues to be expedited, adding it was his belief the completion of the connector from I-55 to the Tennessee state border now could be done by the fall this year.

“We’re projecting it to be open from I-55 to the current roadway probably in August or September of this year,” Tagert said. “We will then have that full connectivity between I-55 and I-40 (in Tennessee). This project is opening about a year ahead of schedule as it was planned to be open in the fall of 2019.”

The Transportation Commissioner again touted the I-269 work as one of the top highway projects in Mississippi.

“This project we consider to be the gemstone of the Department of Transportation,” Tagert pointed out. “We’re talking about new growth opportunity and it is right here in DeSoto County. I-269 is just a tremendous asset.”

Expansion of I-55 to eight lanes continues to be on the drawing board, Tagert said, but it is now contingent on finding the funds to get it done.

“I don’t want to mislead you,” Tagert said. “We sit here today and I don’t know where that construction money for those new lanes are coming from. We are moving forward with the engineering. We know we have the ability to place those lanes.”

Right-of-way near the Church Road interchange has been purchased in anticipation of additional lanes being built south to the Commerce Street exit in Hernando.

How a recent Senate bill would help fund infrastructure projects, such as road and bridge construction, is still up in the air.

Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves this week unveiled Senate Bill 3046, aimed at diverting leftover money at the end of every budget year to a fund the governor would control for long-term infrastructure investments or to match federal money.

But, Reeves’ plan would also divert $180 million from current highway funding to local bridge projects selected by the governor.

Tagert said the measure is quite complicated and is still being analyzed.

“Assuming that the talking points that have been out there are truthful, we see that it would provide another mechanism for some of our rural parts of our state,” he said. “It is my understanding that it provides some funding for specific economic development projects which might have an impact in DeSoto County. I can’t confirm or deny any of that at the moment. It opens up a countless number of codes and to get a full understanding you have to go into each one of those codes to fully understand that bill.”

During his remarks at the Southaven Chamber luncheon, the Transportation Commissioner said the McIngvale Road interchange project to I-269 is moving forward in a cooperative effort with the City of Hernando and DeSoto County. MDOT is building the interchange but the city and county must fund the connecting roads to the interchange.

Tagert said the McIngvale Road interchange will help relieve congestion that has become commonplace at the Commerce Street exit.

“This will not fix the Commerce interchange but it will help relieve a lot of pressure on that interchange into the city of Hernando,” Tagert pointed out. “We hope to go to construction by the end of the summer. The key there is that we need to go to construction before the interstate opens, so we are moving as quickly as we can.”

Bob Bakken is Staff Writer and may be reached at 662-429-6397 ext. 240.

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