I fervently believe that improvements in transportation – more lanes, rails, air and sea ports – will transform even the most economically-challenged communities. That’s why I was honored to be in Tunica County this week as we opened the nation’s first completed stretch of Interstate 69, a new super highway to eventually stretch from Canada to Texas. I-69 will bring jobs and new opportunities to cities and towns throughout America’s heartland, including the Mississippi Delta.
I know what you’re saying. I-69's completion is a long way away, in terms of both days and dollars. Well, that’s true. Interstates are long-term, costly projects. Just two generations ago, our interstate system was virtually nonexistent, but today no one argues that America’s interstate system isn’t worth the cost. Interstates have proven to be good investments that serve America well. I-69 will do the same.
With four lanes more commonplace these days, a lot of Americans take super highways for granted. But think about this: Every day in Mississippi, thousands commute 20 to 60 miles to work along interstates and four lanes. Sometimes the longest commutes last no more than an hour or half hour. That wouldn’t be possible without good interstates and four lane roads.
Large employers like Nissan and Northrop Grumman actively seek access to interstates and four lane thoroughfares. In fact, I-69 will directly impact Tunica County’s new “mega site,” a swath of land being marketed to prospective companies interested in Mississippi. In this part of our state, that means more manufacturers and warehousers who are looking for proximity to Memphis, one of the world’s largest distribution centers.
Safety is greatly enhanced by modern roads. The majority of roads in the Tunica and DeSoto county area now are primarily rural and suburban two lanes with high accident rates. When you consider that Mississippi’s northwest corner is one of the fastest growing areas in the whole country, the life-saving potential of I-69 is obvious.
I’ve worked aggressively to ensure I-69's footprint through Mississippi was as big as possible. When all Mississippi segments of I-69 are complete, this interstate will impact Marshall, DeSoto, Tunica, Coahoma and Bolivar counties. That’s real good news for Mississippi’s Delta region because I-69 will certainly help encourage some of that phenomenal economic growth around Tunica and DeSoto counties to etch further south to some of America’s most distressed areas.
Small communities all along I-69's corridor will be better connected. More residents and businesses will be able to move there, build new homes and fix up old downtown areas, all because people and goods have a quicker, safer transit along I-69's interconnected corridor, bringing the entire region economically, socially and geographically closer. In fact, even if another portion of I-69 is never completed, Mississippi’s transportation system will be vastly improved, thanks to the portion of I-69 we’re building through our state.
The $163 million price tag for this modest portion of I-69's Mississippi route was funded mostly through state revenues, bonds and the federal government, of which almost $20 million came at the direct request of Mississippi’s congressional delegation. In addition, I helped place more than $100 million for I-69 in the last federal highway bill.
Improving transportation and education is the key to further developing Mississippi’s economy. We need more lanes, rails, air and sea ports. When we make it easier for new businesses and residents to come here and strengthen the ties with different regions of our state, nation and hemisphere, we will see Mississippi grow well beyond what we could ever imagine.
Senator Lott welcomes any questions or comments about this column.
Write to: U.S. Senator Trent Lott, 487 Russell Senate Office Building, Washington, D.C. 20510 (Attn: Press Office) or Email