Mississippi's I-269 Loop Expected to Generate Real Economic Growth
Construction on Interstate 269 - a highway project which is likely to dramatically transform the largely undeveloped areas its route takes through north Mississippi - is continuing on schedule, with completion projected for the fall of 2018. When completed, I-269 will traverse the state from Marshall County at the Tennessee border westward to Hernando, where it will connect with Interstate 55/69. This Mississippi Department of Transportation (MDOT) project is the state's 26-mile portion of the long-planned Interstate 69, which will ultimately connect Mexico and Canada.
The I-269 loop is intended to relieve traffic on the I-55/I-69 north-south corridor through Memphis and help spur economic growth and access among growing communities in northern Mississippi. The route will ultimately form a horseshoe of nearly 60 miles from Hernando, Mississippi, to Millington in Shelby County, Tennessee. According to MDOT, the Mississippi segments will cost approximately $665 million.
The largest MDOT construction undertaking in the state, the I-269 project is divided into eight individual sections; all are now under construction and more than 50 percent complete. Dirt and bridge work for the entire Mississippi portion of Interstate 269 is finished, MDOT reports.
Two major paving projects make up the latest phase of the project; the largest of these is already in progress, and the second will soon get underway.
Construction on I-269 began in late 2011; the first I-269 section, a 4.5-mile segment between Tennessee Highway 385 in Collierville and Mississippi Highway 302 near Byhalia in Marshall County, opened in October 2015. Tanner Construction of Ellisville, Mississippi, and Eutaw Construction of Aberdeen, Mississippi, have served as primary contractors on sections of the project.
MDOT recently awarded a $76.2 million contract for subgrade preparation and asphalt paving on SR304 and I-269 to a joint venture between Eutaw Construction and Lehman Roberts of Memphis. The paving project involves subgrade preparation and asphalt placement for 14 miles of four-lane interstate construction. It includes 550,000 cubic yards of earthwork; 530,000 tons of granular material; 72,000 tons of crushed stone base; 14,000 tons of lime stabilization; 12,600 linear feet of curb and gutter; 434,000 tons of asphalt; traffic striping; and traffic lights.
"The connectivity and opportunities I-269 will provide is immense," says Mississippi Transportation Commissioner Mike Tagert, who represents the state's Northern District. "We are very proud of this valuable asset, which will provide a safer and more efficient way for commercial vehicles to move goods through the region. As growth continues in DeSoto County - which is one of our fastest growing counties and a huge economic engine - as well as in Marshall County, this new interstate will be vital in promoting economic growth and development throughout the entire region.
"This is more than just a bypass around Memphis," he adds. "The construction of I-269 will transform the region by connecting local communities in several states and will have far-reaching international implications."
Regarding the project's funding, Transportation Commissioner Dick Hall reports, "This project has been largely funded through HELP bonds, which are bonds issued by local entities - in this case, Desoto and Marshall counties. MDOT will pay the debt through a combination of state and federal funds."
Adds Tagert, "HELP funds have been very beneficial to us on several projects in the state. These funds allowed us to move forward with I-269; it might not have been possible without them."
The Benefits of I-69
The long planned and only partially completed I-69 corridor is designed to ultimately span seven states and provide an international border crossing to both Canada and Mexico. Proponents for the completion of I-69 emphasize that it will have a significant positive effect on national and international shipping, support and encourage multi-state transportation development, and contribute to regional economic growth and development. But of the proposed 2,000-plus miles of the I-69 corridor, only sporadic sections are currently open to traffic, in somewhat disjointed sections from Indiana southward.
Tagert and Hall (who serves as Chairman of the Mississippi Transportation Commission and is a member of the board of the I-69 Mid-Continent Highway Coalition) are strong advocates for the completion of Interstate 69.
"In Mississippi, I-69 will run for about 178 miles between Tunica and Benoit," Hall explains. "Approximately 39 miles of it now open. This project, estimated at $1.5 billion, will run right through the Mississippi Delta, which is by far the most economically distressed area of the state. Completion of I-69 in Mississippi could make a difference overnight; just the construction itself would be a boon to the region.
"But completion of the entire I-69 is not going to happen unless Congress and the legislature come to better understand the economic impact that would follow, and then act on it."
Tagert adds, "Mississippi remains a very rural and agricultural state. Interstate access means so much to us if we are to achieve real economic development. And it's not just about freight movement. There would be a secondary positive impact, especially in our fasting growing areas - the efficiency and safety of local roads and bridges will take on a greater importance."
In one step MDOT is taking to lay the foundation for the completion of I-69 in the state, the agency is currently preparing an application for a "Fostering Advancements in Shipping and Transportation for the Long-term Achievement of National Efficiencies" (FASTLANE) grant from the United States Department of Transportation's Build America Bureau. The FASTLANE program provides dedicated, discretionary funding for projects that address critical freight issues facing the nation's highways and bridges. It is aligned with the U.S. DOT's draft National Freight Strategic Plan, released in October 2015, which looks at challenges and identifies strategies to address impediments to the efficient flow of goods throughout the nation.
In announcing the soliciting of applications for FASTLANE grants, U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said, "Across the country, there are sidelined projects that are essential to America's cities and our transportation network, and leveraging a FASTLANE grant from the Build America Bureau can move many of these projects forward," said Secretary Foxx. "FASTLANE grants give us an opportunity to identify and invest strategically in those projects that are critical to keeping our nation's economic engine running."
MDOT goals for I-269 and I-69 in Mississippi, as outlined by Hall and Tagert, are echoed in a partial list of the stated goals of FASTLANE grants: improving the safety, efficiency, and reliability of the movement of freight and people; generating national or regional economic benefits and an increase in global economic competitiveness of the U.S; reducing highway congestion and bottlenecks; and improving connectivity between modes of freight transportation.
Critical to the Future
Whether the ambitious I-69 corridor - with its estimated total cost of approximately $30 billion - is actually completed from Canada to Mexico is something only time will tell. In Mississippi, however, the soon-to-be completed I-269 project is poised to trigger economic benefits in the very near future. Tagert states, "Interstate 269, with it connectivity to multiple interstates, will have an immediate, tremendous impact on our state. And it will be a critical part of I-69 in the future."Hall adds, "Even if the rest of I-69 is never built, I-269 will be a huge asset to Mississippi, helping to eliminate traffic problems and bringing vast economic opportunities."
Photos courtesy of Mississippi Department of Transportation and Eutaw Construction