Hall: Meridian ready for growth, needs highway upgrades
By By Fredie Carmichael / staff writer
June 29, 2003
Central District Transportation Commissioner Dick Hall believes the future is bright for Meridian.
Hall said upgraded roads and highways could help Meridian and Lauderdale County officials recruit new business and industry.
Hall, one of three commissioners who oversee the Mississippi Department of Transportation, discussed road improvements and other issues in an interview last week with The Meridian Star editorial board.
The Meridian Star: With all the talk about Meridian being on the verge of landing a major industry, is there more of an emphasis being put on Meridian highways by MDOT?
Dick Hall: There weren't any four-lanes built over here during the '87 (four-lane highway) program, or at least a precious few. There wasn't a need then. There's more of a need here now.
And I think that's the one thing missing here is the highways. You've got the air. You've got the rail. Now we just need to update the highways. And for any major industry, like the ones folks around here are chasing, it's going to have to have all of those.
The Star: With all of the transportation advantages Meridian has to compete for industry the major intersections, rail and air why haven't we been able to land anything yet?
Hall: My father used to tell me that what Meridian needed was a few funerals, that there was small number of people here who controlled a whole lot. I don't think you have that anymore.
I think you've got an awful lot of people in Meridian now who are self-made successful people, first-generation successes. That's why I think Meridian is ready to move now.
I work with a lot of political leadership. But I tell you I can't find anybody more cooperative than the Lauderdale County Board of Supervisors and City Hall have been in this area. We have worked hand in glove with them, we have no problems with them. They want to be progressive here and we work very well with them.
I'm old enough to have seen a big change in this part of the state. I can remember when this area didn't really care about what other folks would call progress. It was more like Meridian wanted to be left alone. I don't feel that at all now. There's not a thing in the world that can hold Meridian back now. That's why we've got to get these highways upgraded.
The Star: Tell us about the controversy recently with the proposed interchange to the industrial park. What happened to the city's first site choice and why was it not good enough?
Hall: We had meeting after meeting after meeting looking at the possibility at putting an interchange there (at Highway 11 and 80). I'm not going to say it was impossible, but it would have cost no telling how much more money to build one there than somewhere else.
There was a problem with about a 50-foot drop. You had to drop over a main-line railroad, and it was too steep for the trucks. Our engineers just went over and over it and just determined that it made no sense to build one there.
So we told the city that they where just going to have to find somewhere else to put it. So the project is really a city/county project that Congress earmarked some money for. We handed the administration of the project over to the city, which we do sometimes just to expedite things because we have so much work going on around the state.
Everything has to be done to our specifications and they have to be to our approval and the approval of the Federal Highway Department. But the administration of the project is the city's responsibility. They have hired a consultant engineer who is looking at different alternatives, who will come to us with those. And one will be picked as to where it's going to be and exactly what it's going to look like.
The Star: Do you think there are any politics involved with where the new interchange site should be?
Hall: I try to stay out of the politics. But the problem with the first one was that it was a horrible location. Somebody went out there, got the property for the park and then came and said, OK, now we're going to put an interchange there.' Well, it's a lousy place to build an interchange. You would've just had to throw a barrel of money at that to make it happen.
We tried every way in the world to make that thing work and it just wouldn't work. Now where this other site is and who owns the property there, I have no idea. We'll just approve or disapprove the engineering of whatever is brought to us.
The Star: When could Mississippi expect to see a law passed in the Legislature that would double speeding fines for motorists caught speeding in work zone areas?
Hall: We passed that bill during the Fordice administration. Fordice was one of those that would read all of the bills. And when he read that one, he found a flaw in that one and vetoed it which he should have.
This year, the Senate passed it and it died on the House calendar on the last day of the session. We expect it to pass next year. There's overwhelming support in the Legislature for it.