Mississippi leaders cheer as US Senate adds amendment for authorization of new interstate that would pass through Mississippi, four other states

Published 1:51 pm Wednesday, August 4, 2021

On Tuesday, the U.S. Senate unanimously approved an amendment adding congressional authorization of the full Interstate-14 five-state corridor expansion to the pending Bipartisan Infrastructure Package.

“Tuesday, Aug. 3, 2021, will go down in the history of south Mississippi as a very important day — a huge day,” said Chandler Russ, executive director of Natchez Inc.

The package still needs to be approved by the House and the Senate and signed by President Joe Biden before becoming law.

Over the last few weeks, Russ and others have been frantically lobbying for the project, making certain Interstate-14 was part of the infrastructure legislation being put together by the Biden Administration and Congress.

“We’ve been on the phone with senators Wicker and Hyde Smith talking about this,” Russ said. “We got to watch (the vote) on C-Span and the senator who was introducing the bill said, ‘Anything that Sen. Ted Cruz and Sen. Raphael Warnock agree on deserves the unanimous support of the U.S. Senate,’” Russ said. “He got a good belly laugh out of that line.”

Russ said the project, which will take generations to complete, will benefit the Natchez area for generations to come.

“Having an Interstate connecting Midland-Odessa, Texas, to Augusta, Georgia, coming through Natchez and Vidalia and continuing to Brookhaven and Laurel as well as improving connectivity to our deep water ports throughout the Gulf Coast is of significant importance to our future economic development efforts.

“Approximately 65% of Request for Proposals from companies, site location consultants, state agencies and others begin with proximity to Interstates. What that means is that Adams County and Concordia Parish typically would get eliminated from 65% of the opportunities. Soon, once signed into law and we have that designation we are able to check that box, coupled with our other assets of the river and rail we are poised to continue to have phenomenal growth,” Russ said.

He thanked senators Wicker and Hyde Smith and others on their efforts to have the project included in the infrastructure package.

“I can’t over emphasize how proud we are of the work done by Sen. Wicker and Sen. Hyde Smith and their staffs as well as Congressman Guest and Congressman Palazzo. In Louisiana, our sincere thanks is with Sen. Cassidy and Sen. Kennedy as well a Congresswoman Letlow. Additionally, thanks to all the counties, cities and economic development professionals along the proposed route of I-14 a great grassroots effort to get this started.

“City of Natchez, Adams County Board of Supervisors, never wavered in their support and kept it as a priority for many years. As the Mississippi representative for the five-state coalition, I am humbled and grateful that we were able to accomplish this huge milestone in this environment and like Sen. Carper said calling for a voice vote, ‘anything that Sen. Cruz and Sen. Warnock can agree on deserves unanimous support,’ and indeed it did get unanimous support,” Russ said.

Congressional designation

Don Rodman, who is communications advisor and coalition administrator for the I-14/Gulf Coast Strategic Highway Coalition, said the importance of the addition of the I-14 project in the infrastructure bill is that it leads the way for actual work to begin on the project.

“The key thing is the congressional designation. That is a really important step because it authorizes the project. Nothing can happen — no money can be spent on the project — until it has congressional designation. It means it’s the real deal,” Rodman said.

The completed I-14 would run from Midland-Odessa, Texas, through Natchez and end at Augusta, Georgia.

“Once you have it in the law, each state’s department of transportation can begin working on all of the steps required to create a section of interstate highway,” he said.

Rodman and Russ noted, if approved by the House and the Senate and signed by the president, it would still be a very long time before the I-14 project becomes reality.

“We are talking about a very long-term effort,” Rodman said. “Multi-generational. We have been working for 25 years on I-69, which goes across eight states and runs from Michigan to South Texas, and we still have many, many hundreds of miles to go on that project. It’s important that people look at this and think of it in terms of the leadership that needs to be provided today for what happens years in the future.”

Natchez Mayor Dan Gibson said, “This is great news for Natchez. This designation will mean a lot to our region. It will mean we get to ‘check the box’ when it comes to attracting industry and assuring them of eventual proximity to a major interstate. It all starts somewhere. This is the start.”