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MDOT celebrates 100 years, reflects on expanding transportation in the 70’s

On March 29, 2016, the Mississippi Department of Transportation (MDOT) began its second century of service to the people of the state, 100 years after the Mississippi Legislature created the Mississippi State Highway Commission in 1916. MDOT is celebrating throughout the year while recognizing major milestones that shaped the state’s transportation history.

The early 1970’s were a turbulent time for the country. Widespread opposition of the conflict in Vietnam and exposure of the Watergate Scandal created skepticism of the government. Meanwhile, by the time the 1960’s came to a close, most Mississippians were utilizing the state’s growing highway system. Approximately 530 miles of interstate highway was open for travel across Mississippi. In 1969 and 1972, the Legislature adopted several highway measures.

In 1969, the Legislature authorized the $300 Million Bond Program, which rescinded the $95 million limitation imposed by the laws of 1966 and established a $25 million limitation on new bond issues to match Federal Aid. This bond was backed by a gas tax and priority bill which required the Highway Commission to four-lane and reconstruct older roads on basis of use and importance.

In Mississippi, 1972 marked the election of Governor William L. Waller and significant investments in infrastructure. Work on the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway (or Tenn-Tom) began with efforts to provide economic and industrial benefits by linking the port of Mobile to ports on the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers. Even though President Nixon included $1 million in the Corps of Engineers 1971 budget to start construction of the Tenn-Tom Waterway, construction was delayed until December 1972 because of a lawsuit filed against the waterway by environmentalists.

Eventually, the federal court would rule in favor of the project. After 12 years of construction, the Tenn-Tom was completed in December 1984 and remains an example of government infrastructure investments that produce economic benefits over time. The Tenn-Tom is currently managed by state conservation agencies and utilized for wildlife habitat preservation and recreation.

Another critical milestone took place in 1972 with the passing of the $600 million Highway Corridor Program, which called for approximately 1,200 miles of four-lane highways to be constructed resulting in large economic productivity in almost every area of the state. At the time, it was the largest public works program undertaken in Mississippi.

Seven major corridors stemmed from the Highway Corridor Program including Highway 84, linking the cities of Natchez and Waynesboro; Highway 49, connecting Jackson to the Mississippi Delta; Highway 25 which would connect Jackson to the northeast part of the state; Highway 61, providing north and south access along the Mississippi River; Highway 82, connecting the Golden Triangle to Greenville; Highway 45, providing a parallel route across the Alabama border; and Highway 78, connecting Tupelo with the Memphis area.

Today, MDOT supports 16 ports and 90 percent of all commercial traffic and 60 percent of all statewide traffic in Mississippi. Read more about Mississippi’s evolving transportation history, including an interactive timeline, “MDOT 100 Moment” video series featuring Mississippi Native and American Country Music Recording Artist Steve Azar, and information on a time capsule sealed on MDOT’s centennial anniversary, at GoMDOT.com/MSDOT100. Follow @MississippiDOT on social media using the hashtag #MSDOT100.

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