Kiln leaders fear bypass project will kill business

In the past five years, the Kiln community has seen increased growth and development in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, but business owners in the community say all the growth may be for naught, if a new bypass highway is built.

The group, Kiln Business Council, is holding a meeting at the Kiln Library Thursday at 5:30 p.m.

“We are trying to stop this,” Roland “Boobie” Cuevas of Cuevas Auctions said Tuesday. “This bypass is not good for Hancock or Pearl River counties.”

The proposed bypass is part of a $35 million MDOT project aimed at providing an additional evacuation route and relieving traffic congestion in the area.

The funding for the project is part of the Ground Zero Action plan, which gave Hancock County $200 million for Hurricane Katrina recovery projects.

MDOT engineer Kelly Castelberry said Tuesday that MDOT would like to see a new highway which connects interstates 59 and 10.

“We have an issue with traffic congestion in Kiln,” Castelberry said. “Linking the two interstates would provide an additional evacuation route and spur economic development.”

MDOT is currently weighing the merits of two proposed bypasses which would begin where Highway 603 turns near the Stennis Drive.

The first proposal has the bypass moving west of the current highway directly to Pearl River County. The bypass would not reconnect with Highway 43 until near the Salem Community.

The second bypass travels east of the current highway and links up with Highway 43 at the current 603/43 junction.

Cuevas said both bypasses would be bad for the community, but the first option is the worst.

Under that proposal, all of the businesses along the highway on Highway 603 and 43 would see a diminished amount of traffic, he said.

“We don’t want them to take our traffic,” he said. “All we would be left with is our mortgages.”

Even worse, he said, the new bypass is planned to be a non-egress road, meaning there would be limited places to turn around.

“If someone driving the road would see a business from behind, it may be miles before they could turn around,” Cuevas said.

Castelberry said all of the factors surrounding the road are being taken into consideration before a final decision is made.

“We are trying to determine how many homes, farms, and businesses will be affected by either route,” he said.

“Right now, we are doing an environmental impact study. All of those factors are part of the study.”

Castelberry said he does not expect the study to be complete for at least another year, and before any final decision is made, hearings will be held to gather public input and gauge opinion.

Once all the public input is acquired, a “Record of Decision” will be rendered and the road will be constructed, he said.

“It could be one route, it could be another, it could be a combination,” he said. “The public will be informed about what is taking place.”

Cuevas said his group will push for a widening of Highway 603, rather than a bypass of the community.

“A bypass road killed all of the mom-and-pop stores in Picayune in the ’60s,” he said. “We don’t want that happening here.”

BY: Dwayne Bremer
The Sea Coast Echo

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