Philadelphia bypass project takes major step
By By William F. West / community editor
Aug. 19, 2002
PHILADELPHIA Mississippi Central District Transportation Commissioner Dick Hall said the first major step has been taken toward making a new Highway 16 a reality here.
Hall and his two fellow commissioners, Wayne Brown and Zack Stewart, voted early last week to seek an independent consulting firm to conduct an environmental study for a relocated highway, also called the Philadelphia bypass.
The commission's vote, in effect, voided plans approved several years ago by two previous commissioners who were at odds with MDOT staffers' recommendations about the location of the new highway.
Hall said that MDOT expects to have a consulting firm on board in about 30 to 45 days certainly within 60 days. The environmental study is required to determine a highway's impact on the land, trees and water.
An independent consultant is being chosen to avoid the perception that politics will be a factor in selecting the location of the new highway.
Highway 16 is mostly two-laned through the state but is briefly four-laned on the west side of the Mississippi Band of Choctaws reservation. The highway narrows back into a congested two-lane thoroughfare at the Choctaws' Pearl River Resort and Silver Star Hotel &Casino.
The two-lane stretch is also becoming increasingly lined with new businesses, eateries and motels all the way to the junction of Highway 15 at the Williamsville community near Philadelphia.
Highway 16 is paired with a briefly four-laned Highway 15 before separating and veering toward Philadelphia's town square where truckers, particularly those hauling logs, have to make tight turns to get on either Highways 19 or 21.
Hall made clear that he is not calling for a relocated Highway 16 because of the Silver Star and the Choctaws' soon-to-be-opened Golden Moon Hotel &Casino.
Rather, he said, he wants the new highway "so we can get that traffic out of downtown Philadelphia."
Neshoba County Circuit Clerk Patti Lee said "I'm sure it would be a God-send" to the truck drivers to be able to bypass downtown.
Mayor welcomes news
Mayor Rayburn Waddell also welcomed the news.
Waddell also said that he would like for the city of Philadelphia to annex land along Highway 16 "as far we can go" toward the reservation in order to get revenues from the booming area.
David Vowell, president of the community's development partnership, said, "We're going to willingly accept and support whatever decision the Transportation Commission makes."
According to Hall, several years ago, two of the MDOT commissioners, Wayne Burkes and Ronnie Shows, voted to extend Highway 16 in a straight line through the Highway 15 intersection at Williamsville. The two votes were against the MDOT staff's recommendation for a more southerly route. Stewart cast the lone vote in favor for the MDOT staff-backed plan.
Hall said that the commission's 2-to-1 vote at the time prompted the federal government to say it would not participate in helping fund construction of the new highway. That, in turn, prompted a decision at the state level to build it with revenues from casinos, he said.
Hall said that "hell's going to freeze over" before one ever secures any gaming revenues to pay for the Highway 16 project because of the politics involved.
The Choctaws are a separate nation exempt from state taxation.