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Highway 7 widening project still in limbo

The widening of Highway 7 in Oxford will remain something for motorists to dream about according to the Mississippi Department of Transportation.

About seven years ago, MDOT announced plans to widen Highway 7 to four lanes from Belk Boulevard to the Highway 7/9 split.

Many property owners were contacted about MDOT purchasing property for rights-of-way, and a few utilities were moved; however, in 2015, MDOT announced the project had stalled due to a lack of funding.

Three years later, not much has changed.

“MDOT is nearly complete with the right of way acquisition that began several years ago. However, we will not proceed with utility relocation,” said MDOT public information officer Jace Ponder. “Due to current funding limitations, the project on State Route 7 is not scheduled to proceed to construction.”

Funding had already been set in place for land acquisition and moving utilities. However, the more substantial chunk of the estimated funds needed to begin construction is not available.

The cost for the four-lane highway was estimated at $40,259,235 in 2012 when MDOT first began notifying property owners about the widening project.

City of Oxford engineers moved forward with relocating utilities and spent $37,000 on design, $300,000 on sewer relocation and $460,000 on water relocation for the project, according to Reanna Mayoral, assistant city engineer.

“The water and sewer relocation costs do include about $170,000 for improvements that the City chose to do to improve the lines above what was existing,” Mayoral said. “For example, we chose to increase the size of the water main for future needs rather than simply relocating the same size line.  In the cases of betterment, the City is responsible for 100 percent of that cost.”

Lafayette County did not spend any county funds directly related to preparing for the widening; however, the Board of Supervisors did rush to find a place to relocate several county offices currently stationed along Highway 7.

Board president Jeff Busby said MDOT purchased land from the county that included the building on the corner of Veteran’s Boulevard where the Health Department, driver’s license and Lafayette County Extension offices are currently housed.

The county purchased land off County 406 and accepted bids last week for the construction of the Lafayette County Business Center and Arena, where the offices will relocate once construction is complete.

The center will also include spaces for Child Protective Services, the Department of Human Services, the Coroner’s Office, Justice Court and the City of Oxford’s Municipal Court, which is currently located in City Hall but has outgrown the space.

“In the end, it was a good thing because we probably purchased the land cheaper a few years ago then we would if we started the process this year or a year or two down the road,” Busby said. “MDOT is allowing us to remain in those offices until our complex is completed.”

Busby said he doesn’t understand why MDOT isn’t pushing to find the funding for the widening project that is “desperately needed.”

“I’ve seen some of the other projects MDOT is doing around the state and those roads are nowhere near as dangerous as that stretch of Highway 7,” he said. “It needs to be done and soon.”