By Alyssa Schnugg
Oxford and Lafayette County leaders sent a joint letter to the Mississippi Department of Transportation requesting immediate funding to improve Highway 7 after three people died in wrecks earlier this month.
The letter, signed by Oxford Mayor Robyn Tannehill, Lafayette County Supervisor Mike Roberts, Sen. Nicole Boyd and Rep. Clay Deweese, was sent today to the executive director of MDOT Brad White and all three MDOT commissioners.
The letter expressed frustration over the state failing to listen to Oxford and Lafayette County’s requests for more than 20 years to have the highway widened from the Highway 6/7 intersection south to the Highway 7/9 split and down to the Lafayette County line.
According to the letter, “It is long past time that this is a top priority for our state.”
Local officials are asking for “immediate attention and allocation of appropriate project funding” to make the improvements to the highway.
“This portion of Highway 7 is used by thousands of our neighbors every day from Marshall, Calhoun and Yalobusha counties as they travel between Holly Springs, Bruce, Calhoun City and other locations north and south,” the letter states. “More than 24,000 citizens travel this road daily to and from Lafayette County for work and to access services. Additional visitors to Oxford, Lafayette County and the University of Mississippi travel this road for special events every weekend.”
The recent push from local leaders came from the deaths of three people on Oct. 5-6 in two separate wrecks on Highway 7.
Sandra Cooks, 66, and Patricia Gullette, 36, both of Water Valley, and Brenda H. Barfield, 83, of Oxford were killed in the wrecks.
Since 2014, more than 800 wrecks have been recorded on Highway 7 within the city limits. Since December 2015, there have been 16 fatalities on the highway.
“Understand that between 2014-18 a large portion of the most dangerous sections of Highway 7 were not within the city limits nor do these numbers reflect wrecks in areas outside the city limits today,” the letter states. “At what point will there be enough loss to get these dire concerns addressed?”
The widening of Highway 7 to four lanes from Belk Boulevard to the Highway 7/9 split was on MDOT’s table more than nine years ago until MDOT announced in 2015 the project was put on hold.
Many property owners were contacted about MDOT purchasing property for rights-of-way, and some city utilities were moved. 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 still 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.
However, MDOT announced in 2018 that it would instead build a roundabout at the Highway 7/9 split. The construction on the roundabout was started this summer.