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Visionary highway plan moves Mississippi forward

By By Buddy Bynum
Jan. 13, 2002
Governmental agencies love their acronyms and there's good reason. The names of some governmental agencies, programs and the like are sometimes so long they can hardly be said in one breath.
So we shorten them a little. Make them a little more comprehensible for folks who may not like big government all that much anyway and are frightened by the thought of having to pronounce all those words, much less understand what they mean.
But reducing the length of a name does not reduce the impact that a program may have on our quality of life and future. A.H.E.A.D. is one of those programs.
The letters stand for Advocating Highways for Economic Advancement and Development. In short, it's the name given by the group of business, political and community leaders who insisted 15 years ago that Mississippi needed a real plan to build and improve highways.
Highways were the key to future development, enabling people and products to move fairly freely over roads that were built to higher, safer standards. All sorts of data were used to show that four-lane highways are safer than two-lane highways. Highways are an essential part of a multi-modal transportation system that generates commerce and takes people and goods from where they are to where they need to go.
Some people refer to the plan as the 1987 four-lane highway program. It was an extensive, expensive blueprint for moving Mississippi into the modern age, and it's working.
Fifteen years ago, the Mississippi Legislature adopted the plan to build 1,077 miles of four-lane highways at an expected cost of $1.6 billion.
Since then, more miles have been added so that, today, the 1987 program's cost stands at nearly $5.5 billion and covers four-laning or other improvements to 1,811 miles of state highways.
The program is funded in part by taxes on fuel and oil, federal funds, bonds and tag fees. As of the date of A.H.E.A.D.'s most recent annual report, actual receipts of more than $2.4 billion have been collected, more than $100 million higher than projections.
Thus far into the program, 680 miles are open to four-lane traffic, 291 miles have been let to contract and 116 miles remain to be let.
The initial intent was to build and improve highways in phases based primarily on vehicle count and road capacity. Three phases were established with a mileage goal and estimated cost.
Truth be told, for a variety of reasons, some of the roads included in the original plan fell short of their deadlines. Much of the work, even 15 years later, remains to be done. Some of the highways improved earlier now need maintenance.
But this is the program that will one day result in a four-lane U.S. 45 from Lauderdale County to Corinth, not to mention improvements to many other roads in east Mississippi and across the state.
The evidence will show that the 1987 highway program was and is one of the most visionary programs ever attempted in Mississippi.
The next time you're driving and encounter those frustrating orange barrels, breathe in the fumes of freshly-laid asphalt, or see a road crew at work, think "progress." Think A.H.E.A.D.