Discussions to widen I-55 in DeSoto County could soon turn to action

Published: Feb. 15, 2023 at 6:46 PM CST|Updated: Feb. 15, 2023 at 6:48 PM CST

DESOTO COUNTY, Miss. (WMC) - For years, there have been discussions to widen I-55 in DeSoto County, just discussions though.

For several months, however, county leaders have been pushing harder than ever to get results, and they may be closer than ever to seeing a much-needed project become a reality.

“We’re shovel-ready to go,” said Lee Caldwell, Supervisor for DeSoto County’s 4th District.

Caldwell and over one-hundred DeSoto County residents went to Jackson a few days ago to have face-to-face interactions with members of the state legislature’s transportation committee, as well as the Mississippi Department of Transportation (MDOT) and some of the highest-ranking officials.

They were also joined by the group Driving DeSoto, which has an online petition to widen the vital roadway.

At last check, that petition has over 4,000 signatures.

The others who went to the state capitol were more than just the elected leaders in the county.

They’re “our business leaders. It’s our soccer moms. It’s our teachers trying to get to school―our emergency services who are just trying to move in DeSoto County,” Caldwell said.

She elaborated further that state lawmakers from other parts of the Magnolia State may not be familiar with the growth in DeSoto County and the need for additional infrastructure to match it.

DeSoto County is the fastest-growing county in the state and also has the state’s largest school system.

“We’ve had 14 percent growth over the last 10 years, which makes us almost 200,000 people,” Caldwell said. “We’re not even going to be able to add more business and industry on those roads until we can increase capacity.”

With that population, a boom means more cars on the road and, unfortunately, a higher risk of car accidents.

Drivers know that once you cross the state line into Mississippi from Memphis into DeSoto County, the traffic lanes rapidly shrink from 11 total to just four.

“If you close down a lane―well at least you’ve got another lane, but sometimes it’s the whole interstate because a car hit another car and you’ve shut down the interstate,” Caldwell said.

Traffic on I-55 in DeSoto County was brought to a complete stop dozens of times in 2022, a situation many drivers are familiar with.

“It’s a big problem,” said Horn Lake resident Cathy Lantrip. “I feel for the people who live in Hernando who have to deal with that rush hour commute.”

“I avoid it as much as possible because I don’t like being stuck in traffic,” added Southaven resident Dwyndl Nelms.

The current plan to widen I-55 consists of the roughly 10-mile stretch from Goodman Road in Southaven to Commerce Street in Hernando.

The plan has been reviewed by MDOT and now only needs funding to get things started.

The “shovel ready” portion Caldwell referred to is Phase 1, which is the two-mile stretch from Church Road to Goodman Road.

Its price tag is $119 million, and the total price tag is $450 million.

Thursday, Governor Tate Reeves is expected to announce $1.3 billion in infrastructure project funding, and Caldwell and the county want a piece of that large pie.

Should I-55 not get help soon, that growth could slow.

Caldwell and others are planning to take a trip to Washington D.C. to meet with the Mississippi Delegation to see what federal funding could be available for the project.

Should funding for Phase 1 be approved in the near future, Action News 5 is told we can expect to see crews widening I-55 this time next year.

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