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City of Picayune moves forward with MDOT agreement on adopting I-59 interchanges

Every motorist in Picayune has noticed the upgrade to the appearance of the interchanges of exits 4 and 6 along Interstate 59. It appears those efforts to clear the underbrush were part of a verbal agreement between the Mississippi Department of Transportation and the city of Picayune’s administration and more work is planned if the city decides to take over the future upkeep of those interchanges, including the lighting.

During Tuesday’s meeting of the Council, City Manager Freddy Drennan asked Council members and the mayor to consider a resolution of intent to enter into an agreement with MDOT to adopt those areas and thus take over the maintenance and lighting bills of those areas.

When Councilor Frank Ford asked how much such an agreement would cost the city, Drennan said that the light bill for those two areas is about $19,000 annually.

The agreement would also mean that the city would be responsible for the ongoing upkeep of grass cutting in those areas. Cost estimates for that aspect of the agreement were unavailable during Tuesday’s meeting, but Drennan said if the city chose to use its own employees to do that work, then overtime would probably be the biggest expense.

When Ford asked if the city would also be responsible for maintaining the lighting fixtures in those areas, Public Works Director Eric Morris said that the city would be required to keep the lights in working order. Additionally the city would be provided with the required tools to lower the lighting fixtures when a major storm is expected to make landfall or if they were damaged by some other occurrence.

Ford expressed additional concern as to if the city would have the ability to back out of the agreement should the expense be too high. Drennan said he could not answer that question at this point since a copy of the agreement has not been provided to the city yet. He added that the matter on Tuesday’s agenda did not establish a concrete agreement, but was the first step in the process.

Councilor Larry Breland asked if the city has the available funding to cover those additional expenses. City Clerk Amber Hinton said those expenses are not in the current budget, but formation of the budget for the next fiscal year is coming soon.

Councilor Anna Turnage asked that should the Council approve the motion during Tuesday’s meeting, if the city still had time to research the matter. Drennan said that MDOT was looking for a serious commitment from the city since the state agency already spent “a lot of money to do what they did.”

He added that the “verbal agreement” between MDOT and the city was to get the interchanges in pristine condition, then turn it over to the city to continue to maintain that appearance. More work is planned, including fences, more tree removal and some drainage work, and if the city was to back out now, Drennan said it would be entirely possible for MDOT to cease any additional work to rectify those matters.

Outside concerns of the expense, additional discussion on the matter was that the work done so far has made the interchanges look much better, Councilors Jan Stevens and Turnage said they have received positive input from the businesses that operate in those areas, one of which has promised to show records reflecting an uptick in sales.

Additionally, representatives with several business focused agencies, such as the local Economic Development District, Picayune Main Street and Greater Picayune Area Chamber of Commerce all said that cleaning up the interchanges would be good for the city’s tax base and overall appearance.

Economic Development Director Lindsay Ward said the way the interchanges looked before was detrimental to attracting more businesses. Chamber Director Terry Farr said the previous appearances of those interchanges made the city look like it was in the middle of a foreclosure. Picayune Main Street Board of Directors President Tom Milar said Main Street supports the move because the consensus is cleaner entrances mean more economic development.

Mayor Jim Luke said that back in 2011, he worked with Picayune Main Street Director Reba Beebe to bring in an outside agency to make suggestions. That agency said one of the first things that would make a city more attractive is to make the city’s entrances more appealing because exits 4 and 6 are not just gateways to the city of Picayune, but the state of Mississippi.

He added that thousands of dollars have already been spent by MDOT to get the interchanges looking they way they are now, and thousands more are planned.

When the matter came up for a vote, it was approved unanimously.