The South Reporter
Last Stretch of I-269 Opens
By Sue Watson
Several hundred people turned out Friday morning for what is becoming a more rare occasion – the opening of an interstate, said Federal Highway Administration Director Don Davis.
“It’s a great achievement to open another interstate,” he said. “They are not very frequent (in the United States).”
Speeches by dignitaries, songs by the Hernando Girls Choir and a ribbon-cutting ceremony, all under low clouds and chilly breezes, signified the opening of the last nine-mile segment of I-269 in DeSoto County.
The original estimate for the project, which covers 26 miles in Mississippi (from Tennessee 385 to I-55), was $667 million. It was later revised to $640 million. Since it finished ahead of schedule, total cost of the completed project was about $612 million. It runs through part of Marshall County in the Byhalia area.
The route was environmentally sensitive crossing over the Coldwater River basin where top-down overhead construction was used to get across the wetlands.
Speed design is 70 mph, and the surface is created to minimize accidents and has rumble strips to keep motorists alert. There are eight interchanges on the 26-mile portion of the corridor.
Mike Tagert, highway commissioner for the northern district, expressed elation and appreciation at the completion of construction on the last segment in north Mississippi.
Thanking everyone, he called the project “a crown jewel project’ for the entire region of the state.
“What better place than in the fastest growing area of the state,” he said.
Highways make communities safer and create opportunities for economic development.
“I appreciate the local partnerships and governments here in DeSoto County which were vital in planning the future corridor,” he said. “The next decade of growth in DeSoto County is made possible because of local leadership.”
He thanked the planners of I-69 for their vision, “which can’t be overstated,” he said. “Today is one small component of the bigger project. That vision brought us here today. Twelve years ago we were opening the west side of 69 (from Hernando to Tunica).”
“To me this is a realization of a dream,” U.S. Senator Roger Wicker said of the opening of I-269.
He said in the summer of 1973 he got a job with the highway department.
“It strengthened my resolve to go back to college,” said Wicker, with a laugh.
In 1995, Congress formed a mid-continent highway caucus, which Wicker co-chaired.
In 2007, the Federal Highway Administration designated the Mid-Continent Interstate Highway as one of six corridors in the United States.
“Today, we strike a blow for safety and for the future of the United States of America,” he said.
U.S. Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith expressed amazement at the prosperity and the vision – ingredients in a growing economy in north Mississippi. She complimented and thanked local leaders for their dedication.
“This highway is a pathway to prosperity,” she said. “The economy is moving forward in infrastructure.
“We are going to continue to grow.”
Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves praised Tagert for knowledge and understanding of economic development. He thanked all the highway department crews.
Highways are necessary to get people to their jobs and to get products to market, he said.
“One of the four functions of government is to create an environment that will create jobs,” Reeves said. “The leaders in Mississippi and the federal delegation understood the importance of the vision.”
For commuters and local traffic, I-269 will give motorists an option to travel at highway speeds without traffic signals found on local roads, Tagert said.
For commercial traffic, I-269 will give truckers a more efficient route between I-40 and I-55 while avoiding congestion in the Memphis, Tenn., metro area.
“The quality of our infrastructure impacts our quality of life and factors into economic development,” Tagert said. “Increased mobility, connectivity and commerce will lead to more investment and more jobs in the region.”
The entire I-269 corridor, which connects I-55 to I-40, stretches 60 miles along the outside of Memphis, Tenn., from the Hernando area to Millington, Tenn. Traffic from Interstate 40 will be able to more easily access I-55 and U.S. Highway 61 in the Delta. I-269 also connects Interstate 22 which runs to Tupelo. Recently four-laned U.S. Highway 72 also crosses I-269 near Collierville, Tenn.