Other Opinions

MDOT’s port connector road still on track for completion

Proposed port connector road from Interstate 10 to the Port of Gulfport.
Proposed port connector road from Interstate 10 to the Port of Gulfport. Bentley Systems Inc.

The Canal Road Connector Project (Highway 601) in Harrison County connecting the Port of Gulfport to Interstate 10 continues to move forward despite recent information reporting on the funding MDOT has spent.

While there have been delays, this important project will support local and state economies, provide efficiency to those traveling along this corridor and improve environmental quality along the Gulf Coast.

Let me share a timeline of the facts with you:

  • 1996: During the legislative session, state lawmakers developed a plan for the Port Connector Road in House Bill 1269 with the option to use funds provided from federal, state, county or municipal sources, including the Economic Development Highway Act.
  • 1996: MDOT began the environmental/location study for the Canal Road Port Connector Project.
  • 1996-2002: MDOT, the city of Gulfport, MSPA and Harrison County provided input to aid in the environmental study with 17 public involvement meetings, met with more than 20 civic and community groups and gathered input from local community leaders, business leaders, church leaders, residents and the general public, which narrowed 15 different alternatives to four concepts for the project.
  • 2002: The four concepts were presented at a public hearing, and the Legislature passed Senate Bill 2058, which mandated the Canal Road Port Connector from I-10 to U.S. 90 be constructed to interstate standards, which means full-controlled access design.
  • 2003: MDOT held a second public hearing, and the Federal Highway Administration finds no significant impacts on the quality of the environment for the project.
  • 2004: The roadway design of the project begins.
  • 2005: With the legislative direction in HB 1269, MDOT begins purchasing right of way for the project from I-10 to Pass Road.
  • 2005: With the devastation after Hurricane Katrina, efforts to rebuild important infrastructure and routes like U.S. 90 and I-10 put the Connector Road Project on hold.
  • 2005: The Highway Enhancement through Local Partnerships program was used to secure funding through the Harrison County Board of Supervisors for preconstruction activities.
  • 2012: A lawsuit against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers revoked the permit necessary for the project, which delayed the start of construction.
  • 2016: To move forward on the project, MDOT is awaiting information from the COE’s environmental impact statement for the Port. This information is needed to re-evaluate MDOT’s environmental document and the wetlands/waters permit application. The construction of the Canal Road Connector Project cannot move forward without this permit.

Although there have been setbacks, the money spent on the project has been a part of the preconstruction phase. These items are a standard part of any major project before construction can begin. Preconstruction includes an environmental and economic impact study, analysis, right-of-way acquisition, roadway design, bridge plan development and utility relocation.

To date, the state has spent $158.4 million on:

  • Environmental and roadway design — $13.5 million
  • Right-of-way acquisition — $134.3 million
  • Right-of-way utility relocation — $7.2 million
  • Construction — $3.4 million
  • HELP bonds are being repaid by MDOT (federal, 80 percent; state, 20 percent)

The need for the project back in 1996 remains as great as it does today to accommodate the growth of the Port and traffic along the Gulf Coast. The funds used in the preconstruction phase are vital to the completion of the project. I want the people of Mississippi to know that the money spent to date on this project is an investment in the future of not only the Port of Gulfport but the entire Gulf Coast.

It may not be today or tomorrow, but this project will be completed.