“The Greatest Push We’ve Ever Seen” to Expand I-55 in DeSoto County

DESOTO COUNTY, Mississippi (WMC) — The widening of I-55 in DeSoto County has been a topic of discussion for decades, but leaders believe the county is at a point where it’s wide or broke for Mississippi’s third-most populous county.

“We can almost no longer add businesses and industries to these thoroughfares because the traffic is so congested,” District 4 Supervisor Lee Caldwell said.

I-55 has become a daily bottleneck at the Goodman Road exit, where there are only four lanes of the freeway south of it.

Caldwell and his colleague Mark Gardner of District 2 tell us that the freeway between Goodman Road in Southaven and Commerce Street in Hernando was closed 39 times between May 9th and November 9th this year.

“It’s not just a lead; that’s shut down,” Caldwell said.

“We believe it’s about time,” Gardner said.

In August, Group Driving DeSoto was formed, a grassroots organization with the goal of helping complete a plan to expand the county’s main thoroughfare.

“It’s business executives, soccer moms, paramedics, emergency services, truck drivers … because when the mouth of the Mississippi is closed, everyone has to stop,” Caldwell said.

Driving DeSoto’s online petition (which you can sign here) has already received 2,850 signatures.

Caldwell and Gardner were among several local DeSoto County executives who recently went to Jackson to verbalise the need for an expansion project.

“The state is in good shape financially,” Gardner said. “They’re sitting on their biggest surplus and last year they got a lot of federal funding for transportation. We want our fair share of it.”

“We were also in Washington DC because we know federal money is needed for this,” Caldwell said.

MDOT sent us a layout of what a potential project would look like and split the project into three phases.

Phase 1 would widen I-55 from Goodman Road to Church Road.

Phase 2 would build on Phase 1 from Church Road to the I-269 interchange, which would include a new exit onto Star Landing Road.

Phase 3 would then extend from I-269 to Commerce Street.

Gardner says phase one already has a blueprint, with utilities completed and land purchased.

All it takes to get started is funding, which Gardner says totals around $400 million for the entire project.

“…but it’s not like we need $400 million next year. We just need the money to start phase one,” he said. “It won’t just affect DeSoto County. This affects Tate County, Panola County, Marshall County and Tunica County. This is a regional issue.”

“It’s not right that all of this taxpayer money is going to every other part of the state when we have urgent needs here,” said State Senator Michael McLendon.

McLendon, who sits on Mississippi’s Highways and Transportation Committee, plans to present those needs to lawmakers at the state’s annual transportation convention on Jan. 11.

“Some of these flyovers are over 60 years old,” he said. “Well, should bridges last more than 60 years? Yes, but we have outgrown those bridges.”

He expects a big show from DeSoto County at the upcoming meeting to push the message forward.

“That’s going to be at the top of the list,” McLendon said.

The combined effort has shown us all that the pressure to widen this lane has never been greater.

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