Birney Imes: The road most traveled

August 1, 2010 1:35:00 AM

Birney Imes - birney@cdispatch.com

 

The other day someone was talking about the proposed Highway 45 Bypass and how it might not be the great thing everyone seems to think it will be. 

 

"It can really hurt businesses and some communities are trying to figure out how to undo their bypasses," he said. 

 

Wonder how you do that. 

 

As Columbus moves -- albeit slowly -- toward a bypass for Highway 45 North, I thought it might be a good idea to talk with someone knowledgeable on the subject. 

 

Dennis Truax heads the civil and environment engineering department at Mississippi State University. He''s co-director of the Mississippi Transportation Research Center at MSU. During his 30 years at State, he has worked as a a consultant, researcher, and educator. 

 

"There have been a lot of studies to look at highway bypasses around communities," he says. "They (bypasses) have been a mixed blessing." 

 

Though to hear him tell it, the good far outweighs the bad. 

 

Truax says in the case of small communities like Mathiston and Eupora, a bypass deprives them of travelers who "stop to smell the flowers" and make a significant contribution to the local economy. 

 

Though in the case of Eupora, the town has grown south toward the bypass and the actual impact has been nominal, he says. 

 

As for Starkville, Truax''s hometown, the effect of the 25 and 82 bypasses has been just short of phenomenal, he says. The new roads have spurred dramatic growth west of town and have opened up areas along Highway 12 to the northeast. 

 

"Before the bypass everybody was building on Montgomery," he says. 

 

The 25 Bypass, says Truax, is in large part responsible for development west of Starkville that includes a new 4-County building, two industrial parks, several businesses (including Wal-Mart and Lowe''s) and two residential areas. 

 

He also credits the 82 Bypass for the Hilton Garden Inn, bank and gas station on Highway 12 northeast of town. 

 

Truax says the bypasses allow communities to spread out and make existing business more accessible and thus more successful. 

 

"My dad had a gas station in small town outside of Mississippi. He was convinced that a bypass would kill him. Instead it increased accessibility because of lessening of mixed traffic and mixed speed that creates congestion. His business almost doubled. " 

 

Truax thinks if done right a Highway 45 bypass would be a boon for Columbus, though he stresses the need for good planning. 

 

"A bad bypass is worse than no bypass," he says. "You don''t need to do this on the back of an envelope. Building a road is really urban development. It needs to be couched in a way that considers community development." 

 

He says getting non-destination traffic such as trucks and passers-through off 45 would give consumers easier accessibility to existing businesses, which should, as was the case with his father, give them a boost. With the traffic moderation and the accompanying increase in its tax base, Columbus would have an opportunity to beautify, he says. 

 

"That''s got to be one of the ugliest transportation corridors in the state of Mississippi," Truax says of Highway 45 North. "That''s a horrendous corridor." 

 

He says a bypass would allow the city to revamp 45 as has been done on County Line Road in Jackson, where medians have been re-landscaped, power lines buried and a proper lighting control system installed. He says the area not only looks better, traffic flow is better and businesses are benefitting. 

 

Truax says Tupelo began sprucing up after it got the 45 bypass decades ago. 

 

"I could see a similar outcome in Columbus," he says. 

 

To those who fear a bypass would hurt local business, Truax says not to worry. Columbus already has a bypass, of sorts, he says. Highway 45 Alternate. 

 

"Columbus is a dynamic enough community that a bypass can be done without adverse effect," he says. 

 

Though Starkville''s bypasses came a decade too late, it will pay further dividends when the economy improves, he says. 

 

"If done well, a bypass could have a positive impact on Columbus," Truax says. 

 

That being the case, we as a community should saying full speed ahead.

Birney Imes III is the Editor and Publisher of The Dispatch.