‘The biggest push we’ve seen’ to widen I-55 in DeSoto County

Published: Nov. 23, 2022 at 6:56 PM CST
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DESOTO COUNTY, Miss. (WMC) - Widening I-55 in DeSoto County has been a topic of discussion going back decades, but leaders believe the county is at a point where it’s wide or bust for Mississippi’s 3rd most populous county.

“We almost can’t add any more business and industry in these arteries because the traffic is so congested,” said District 4 Supervisor Lee Caldwell.

I-55 has become a daily bottleneck at the Goodman Road exit, where south of that is only four total lanes of the highway.

Caldwell and fellow Supervisor Mark Gardner of District 2 tell us between Goodman Road in Southaven and Commerce Street in Hernando, the interstate has been shut down 39 times between May 9 and Nov. 9 of this year.

“That’s not just one lane; that’s shut down,” Caldwell said.

“We feel it’s time,” Gardner said.

In August, the Group Driving DeSoto was founded, a grassroots organization with a goal of helping finalize a plan to widen the county’s main artery.

“It’s business leaders, soccer moms, EMTs, emergency services, truck drivers... because when the mouth of Mississippi is closed, everybody has to stop,” Caldwell said.

Driving DeSoto’s online petition (which you can sign here) has already received 2,850 signatures.

Caldwell and Gardner were among several local DeSoto County leaders who went to Jackson recently to verbalize the need for a widening project.

“The state is in good shape financially,” Gardner said. “They are sitting on their biggest surplus and got a lot of federal funds for transportation last year. We want our fair share of it.”

“We’ve also been to Washington D.C. because we know it’s going to take federal money,” Caldwell said.

MDOT sent us a layout of what a potential project would look like, breaking up the project into three phases.

Phase 1 would widen I-55 from Goodman Road to Church Road.

Phase 2 would build off of Phase 1 from Church Road to the I-269 interchange, which would include a new exit onto Star Landing Road.

Phase 3 would then stretch from I-269 to Commerce Street.

Gardner says Phase one already has a design, with utility work done and land acquired.

All that’s needed to start is funding, which Gardner says is around $400 million for the whole project.

“...but it’s not like we need $400 million next year. We just need the money to get started on Phase one,” he said. “It’s not just going to affect DeSoto County. This affects Tate County, Panola County, Marshall County, and Tunica County. This is a regional ask.”

“It’s not right for all these tax dollars to go away to all other parts of the state when we’ve got immediate needs right here,” said State Senator Michael McLendon.

McLendon, who sits on Mississippi’s Highways and Transportation Committee, plans to present these needs to the lawmakers at the state’s annual transportation meeting on January 11th.

“Some of these overpasses are over 60 years old,” he said. “Now, should bridges last longer than 60? Yes, but we’ve outgrown these bridges.”

He expects a large showing from DeSoto County at the upcoming meeting to push the message forward.

“This will be at the top of the list,” McLendon said.

The combined efforts have all told us that the push for widening this roadway has never been bigger.

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