March 15, 2013 10:19:25 AM
Mayor Robert Smith returned from Washington, D.C. Wednesday with good news -- state senators and representatives were "receptive and sympathetic" to his attempt to secure federal funding for the Highway 45 bypass and a 14th Avenue drainage ditch project.
Smith, along with Starkville mayor Parker Wiseman, Columbus Light & Water Department General Manager Todd Gale, Starkville Electric General Manager Terry Kemp and other locals made the trip to discuss regional projects that many are concerned will be scuttled in the aftermath of the sequestration fallout.
The Highway 45 bypass, a proposed eight-mile loop around the city that would begin at Waters Truck and Tractor and end at the north gate of Columbus Air Force Base, is one of those projects.
Discussions began in 2003 and the project is expected to cost approximately $176 million. It is not slated for completion until 2020.
Soil boring and field investigations have already begun, Smith said. A final report still must be submitted to the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality.
A conceptual plan should be ready for review in May or June, Smith said, estimating that obtaining rights-of-ways could cost as much as $30 million.
The city currently has $7 million in federal earmarks available and still has $2 million left from $9 million already allotted to the project.
Smith believes the bypass will help traffic congestion during drivers' morning, lunchtime and evening commutes.
Another item on Smith's agenda this week was updating legislators on the 14th Avenue drainage ditch, which is blamed for extensive flooding in East Columbus.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is contributing $1.1 million, while the City of Columbus is contributing $350,00. The EPA, which is not allowed to fund city improvement projects, will provide another $400,000 of in-kind services.
Residents say toxic chemicals, left over by the now-defunct Kerr-McGee plant, back up in the ditch and cause problems, including sending sewage flowing across their yards.
"They were complaining," Smith said Wednesday. "Now they can't say the mayor hasn't been up there (in Washington, D.C. ), trying to get them some relief."
The ditch will be moved 1,500 feet and will be lined with concrete to prevent silt build-up and make it easier for water to flow unimpeded.
Smith also talked with legislators about creating a diversion ditch to further ease the flooding situation. The ditch, which would run along the north side of the Highway 82 bypass, would divert water coming from the Cady Hills, Lowe's and Brickerton area, easing flooding in the residential areas on the south side of the bypass.
Kevin Stafford, of Neel-Schaffer, said the project would cost around $15 million. The city is hoping to obtain $2.5 million in federal funds.
Carmen K. Sisson is news editor at The Dispatch.
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