Elevated road sought to connect U.S. 61, port|[05/22/07]

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, May 22, 2007

An elevated road may become a third option for the Mississippi Department of Transportation to evaluate in planning a shorter truck route between U.S. 61 and the Port of Vicksburg.

Earlier this month, MDOT presented maps to residents, industry operators and local government officials showing two routes designed to expedite trucks and remove heavy traffic from the city.

One route cuts through forested areas near Sherman Avenue. Another would be to widen North Washington Street from the port entrance to Blakely where it now intersects with the highway.

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Monday, executive director Jim Pilgrim told port commissioners that a connecting road with an overpass of North Washington Street just north of Anderson-Tully Co. is the best option for both truck and vehicular traffic.

Industries along the port, most notably Bunge North America and Ergon Refining as the two companies try to meet self-imposed deadlines for an ethanol production plant, support the option. They also back other improvements, such as replacing the railroad overpass bridge at the entrance to E.W. Haining Road.

&#8220They strongly urge MDOT take (the option) into consideration,” Pilgrim said, referencing discussions with industrial interests since the May 1 public presentation at the Kings Community Center.

On his recommendation, the board approved a written request to MDOT to consider what Pilgrim called a &#8220fly-over” of North Washington that would join with U.S. 61 North at the former Bowie Road (now Oak Ridge Road).

Commissioners approved endorsing it unanimously. City apppointee Rusty Hawkins abstained from the vote, citing property ownership in the area.

As with plans to extend South Frontage Road beyond Old Highway 27, the port connector road project has been in varying stages of study and planning for a decade or more. Both are likely years from realization.

Funding for the connecting route may come from state-local matching arrangements and the cost has been estimated at up to $20 million. After an environmental review is wrapped up, the South Frontage Road extension will still be short of completion by about $6 million, with state officials looking to federal sources to gradually fill the gap.

As for the ethanol plant, Pilgrim said the joint venture wanted to have electricity by August to its still-in-development facility between the two companies’ sites at the port.

While Pilgrim and the commission agreed the deadline may be too optimistic, the panel agreed to sell a portion of right-of-way to Entergy across from the proposed plant to speed up lines to supplement a substation the utility plans to build near the facility.

In other business, the board heard a report from its attorney concerning its water service from Culkin Water District.

The commission is billed monthly for water service to industries at Ceres Industrial and Research Interplex through lines it owns, but broached the subject of transferring ownership of its lines to the independent water district.

Discussions on the issue have taken place with management at the district, Pilgrim said, though neither board has taken action.

Invoices showed the commission billed at a consistent $54 a month since October for water service.

Reached this morning, Culkin general manager Ken McClellan said the issue has been talked about &#8220for years” and represents &#8220a long-range goal.”

&#8220We need to own them,” McClellan said. &#8220We’ve been doing the maintenance on it forever.”