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Washington visit may speed project to connect S. Frontage, officials say

[3/9/04]A connection between two parts of South Frontage Road is a little closer to reality, said members of a local delegation of elected and other officials who visited last week with members of the Mississippi congressional delegation.

The group of 19, led by the Community Alliance and made up of officials from the City of Vicksburg, Warren County, the Chamber of Commerce and the Warren County Port Commission, spent several days in Washington, D.C., making pitches for help in a list of projects.

They met with Sen. Trent Lott, Reps. Bennie Thompson and Roger Wicker and top aides from Sen. Thad Cochran’s office.

District 4 Supervisor Carl Flanders made the trip for the first time.

“I went as a representative of (Warren) County with the idea our efforts to solicit federal funds were going to be increased by having a broad range of representation on that delegation,” Flanders said.

He said he was there to support efforts to get federal help to extend South Frontage Road from Old Highway 27 across the Kansas City Southern Railway tracks to a short stretch in front of Vicksburg Factory Outlets.

“We got $2.5 million earmarked in the transportation bill … We are going to get half of it now, $2.5 million, and the rest the next fiscal year,” he said.

heryl Comans, president of the Vicksburg Warren County Chamber of Commerce, said the money will be funneled through the Mississippi Department of Transportation.

City officials say they have also suggested to MDOT that the money could be funneled to the local governments who may complete the work sooner. No one has said how long the work could take or when it could be finished.

Mayor Laurence Leyens, who went with the group along with both aldermen and the city planner, said the Mississippi delegates to Washington were receptive to the group.

“We’re getting money that no other town is getting,” Leyens said.

Flanders believes the project would have never gotten this far along without the lobbying from the community.

“There’s been hundreds of thousands of dollars that have been allocated for dredging projects that we’ve been lobbying for for a number of years and we’ve asked that they continue that,” Flanders said.

He said the important thing for him was the delegation went to Washington to ask for help as a group.

“A lot of communities in this state don’t send any delegation,” he said.

Comans believes Vicksburg and Warren County will be able to get help from Washington, “based on their attentiveness and based on the help they’ve given us in the past.”

The African-American Museum and Marketplace is another project Comans feels will receive help. The project would develop a museum dealing with black history and provide a place where art and artifacts made by blacks could be sold.

“They were very helpful in giving us an idea of where we could go and try to look for grants,” she said.

Charlotte Duffey, head of the Alliance, said the trip was productive for Vicksburg and showed the city isn’t simply waiting on Congress.

“I think they’re more willing to put money into a community that is progressive,” Duffey said.

Jimmy Heidel, executive vice president of the Chamber, said a highway project not in Warren County but important to the two tier one Nissan suppliers at the Ceres Research and Industrial Interplex, received support for money.

“We got $2 million for (Mississippi) 22 to start the engineering,” he said.

The project is to widen the state highway from Edwards to Canton to provide another route for 18-wheelers carrying parts from the Yorozu Automotive Mississippi and Calsonic Kensei plants to Nissan.

Heidel said the delegation was encouraged about the possibilities for a number of other projects including closing railroad crossings on Klein and Speed streets and work on the Fairground Street bridge.

The total cost of the trip was not available, but Heidel estimated airplane tickets and hotel rooms for the 17 people who went at $5,800. Meals were paid for by Ergon Inc., Entergy and Neel-Schaffer Inc. The Warren County Port Commission paid expenses for Heidel and Commission Chairman John Moss; the Chamber paid for Comans; the City of Vicksburg paid for city officials; Warren County paid for Flanders; Alcorn State University paid for one person and the others on the trip paid their own expenses.