The DeSoto Times-Tribune

Open to Traffic

By Robert Lee Long and Bob Bakken

With a crowd of more than 700 gathered underneath a highway overpass on a chilly, blustery morning, the final completed segment of the nation's newest superhighway, I-269, was opened to the public amid fanfare and soaring speeches.

The new highway was officially opened from Interstate 55 in DeSoto County to State Route 305 in Marshall County after a ribbon cutting at the Getwell Road interchange.

"This has been a long, long time coming," Northern District Transportation Commissioner Mike Tagert said Friday before the large crowd, which included federal transportation officials and students in the Hernando All Woman Choir from Hernando High School who performed the national anthem. "This project's been in the works for 20-plus years depending on how you look at the planning and the environmental aspects of it. It's been the largest construction project in the State of Mississippi over the last several years. I think that really shows you the importance of this region and our state."

Tagert called I-269 "one of the crown jewel projects that we have going in the entire State of Mississippi. What better place to put it than the fastest-growing part of our state," Tagert said.

"We broke ground on the project in 2011 and it was segmented into different segments and different projects," Tagert said. "The overall cost was somewhere around $669 million and we're finishing with a total cost of $612 million. the original projected date of the fall of 2019 and here we are in the fall of 2018 finishing the project. We don't have a lot of projects of this scope and scale so competition certainly played a part in the budget."

Tagert thanked the various mayors of cities in DeSoto County and the DeSoto County Board of Supervisors along with the state's U.S. Senate and Congressional leadership.

Both sitting U.S. Senators were on hand for the ribbon cutting, U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker and U.S. Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith.

"This is the realization of a dream," Wicker said during his remarks at Friday's ceremony.

"Today we strike a blow for safety. We strike a blow for jobs, not only in DeSoto County and North Mississippi, but for the United States of America. We strike a blow for the future of the United States of America."

Mississippi Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves heralded the project as something that would benefit all of Mississippi.

"We believe that our number one priority in state government is job creation, better and higher paying jobs for our state. If you can't get workers to and from their jobs and can't get products and things they produce to and from market, then there is no job creation and there is no economic development," Reeves said.

District 1 Supervisor Jessie Medlin with the DeSoto County Board of Supervisors, said having I-269 open will be a major catalyst for growth.

"It's going to be a game changer for DeSoto County," Medlin said. "There's tremendous amount of traffic between going to schools and everything I think it's going to take a good bit of traffic off Byhalia Road. You'll see all of these corners turned commercial and some of the bigger areas turn into industrial growth."

State Sen. David Parker said the process to complete I-269 has taken several years but it has been worth the wait.

"It's been many years in the making but another change in the entire infrastructure of our county that's going to bring development, more job opportunities and more nice places to live," Parker said. "It will take a few years for the impact of this to really start to be seen, but beyond my lifetime this will pay dividends to the people of this county forever."

Residents, county officials and others who turned out for the ribbon cutting said they wanted to be present to witness history.

Mat Lipscomb, a 62-year resident of the county and principal co-owner of Lipscomb and Pitts Insurance in Memphis, said the day was a momentous occasion.

"I was born and raised here," Lipscomb said. "I remember the opening of I-55 and the excitement I had as a child that the world was running through my county," said Lipscomb, a longtime Lake Cormorant resident.

Hernando Alderman Andrew Miller said he, too, watched the opening ceremony for I-55 and wanted to be present to witness history unfold again.

"Being able to see I-55 when it came through Hernando and opened up, and now to be able to see I-269 open for traffic, is something that I never thought that I would get to see twice in my lifetime."

Hernando Mayor Tom Ferguson, whose city will have an exit all its own on the interstate, lauded the opening of the highway.

"It's absolutely fabulous for economic development and commerce," Ferguson said. "It's a wonderful thing that we're fortunate to be able to get something like this. It's a great corridor around Memphis."

For his part, longtime DeSoto County Regional Utility Authority Executive Director Bill Austin said the day was a memorable one, in more ways than one.

"It is a watershed day for DeSoto County," Austin said. "The expansions of this county has been good but now they will be outstanding. We have had good connectors north and south. We will now have super connectors east and west."

DeSoto County Administrator Vanessa Lynchard called Friday's ribbon cutting of I-269 a significant achievement.

"I-269 is as important to DeSoto County as I-55 was in its day," Lynchard said. "It will open up commerce and travel."

When fully completed, I-69/I-269 will open up travel between Mexico and Canada.

A section in Indiana is partially complete with other projects along the super highway in various stages of completion.