Mayor Toby Barker and the Hattiesburg City Council said they did not see an advantage in building a western beltway around the Hub City, bypassing businesses and hurting the area economically.
A group of planners presented the proposal to the City Council at a Feb. 5 work session at City Hall, saying that extending the Evelyn Gandy Parkway westward to U.S. Hwy. 49 would alleviate traffic congestion on Hwy. 49 and Interstate 59. However, the route would bypass Hattiesburg and Barker and the City Council said the plan would not benefit the Hub City.
“I do appreciate the desire to eliminate or reduce traffic challenges that we have in this community,” said Ward 2 Councilwoman Deborah Delgado. “But it seems to me that our participation in it as a city would result in benefits for surrounding communities and cities, not so much for the City of Hattiesburg in taking away resources that we need in order for us to continue to provide services to our community.
“I am not crazy about the idea providing an easy access to our sister city, particularly when we need more tax dollars and growth within the city. This is a challenge for me, always has been.”
“There is a general that our duty as elected officials of the City of Hattiesburg is to look out for the long-term economic well-being and infrastructure needs of the City of Hattiesburg,” he said. “While Hattiesburg is certainly the center of all economic activity in the region, I think that the City Council and I both share the same idea.”
The only area of the proposed connector that reaches into Hattiesburg is where it joins U.S. Hwy. 49 around Pep’s Point Road.
During the presentation to the City Council, the proposed route was called “a feasible project” with cost benefits of $7.60 for every dollar spent on construction. The beltway is expected to greatly improve traffic conditions in the area and it would give benefits to county, city and public, diverting about 12,000 of the 66,000 drivers who travel on U.S. Hwy. 49 and Interstate 59.
In an earlier presentation to Forrest County Supervisors, David Hogan said a two-lane road would cost $20 million for Phase 2, while four lanes would cost $40 million, adding that he hopes state or federal money could be obtained for the roads.
Hogan said while he appreciated the work that had gone into the studies, which would have the county shovel-ready, until funds can be secured there was really nothing that could be done with the project.
Delgado said the proposed route “is a challenge for me. There has got to be a way.”
“That is just terrible,” she said. “It allows traffic and dollars to go around us to promote the growth of outlying cities. Maybe I’m thinking out loud and probably shouldn’t be saying this out loud, but that it is how we provide services to our citizens, through sales tax dollars. This is huge for me, that we would be expected to promote the growth of outlying areas.”