Plans to finish a major road project in Shelby County are still up in the air

Plans to finish a major road project in Shelby County are still up in the air, leaving taxpayers with a growing price tag. So far, taxpayers have shelled out millions for improvements to Houston Levee Road. But plans to finish a lot of those improvements are on hold. And the longer it takes, the more it will cost.

Traffic troubles on Houston Levee Road, nothing new to drivers who travel the mostly two-lane road in eastern Shelby County. And there's lots of construction. Neighbor Ryan Robinson said, "You get tractors that ride down that street. And so if you get behind one of them, you're really in bad shape." Development in Eastern Shelby County is booming, attracting more people and more cars. But the county isn't keeping pace with progress. Ted Fox, Shelby County Engineer said, "Houston Levee Road is a long, long road. In fact, to do the complete road would take anywhere from $35 to $40 million. If you started at State Line in Mississippi and went all the way to I-40, that's about what it would cost. Now, can government afford to do all that road at one time? Absolutely not!"

But plans to improve the entire stretch of Houston Levee did go on the books, more than ten years ago. County officials planned to straighten and widen it to six lanes. Since then, taxpayers shelled out more than eight million dollars on the project. Fox said, "So that's money that's been spent. And part of that includes the Wolf River bridge which is going under construction. If you go down Houston Levee, you'll see that now."

Construction has also started on widening the northern stretch of the road to Interstate 40 and on the connector from Winchester to Bailey Station. But that eight million dollars plus also includes engineering and construction plans, many of which are on hold or pared down, thanks to the county's budget problems. Mike Oakes, Shelby Co. Traffic Engineer said, "The plans are still there. Some day they'll need to be done." But while those plans sit on a shelf, Commissioner Tom Moss says the county is wasting time and money. Moss said, "You've got hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of engineering bills and plans that are sitting dormant. And it's got less value today than it had 12-months ago, and that will continue to happen. Certainly the taxpayers in this area aren't getting their money's worth." Robinson said, "We spend money on stuff and it's never going to, they take forever to do what they're going to do. Waste money basically."

Until the county works out its budget problems, many Capital Improvement Projects like Houston Levee will stay in limbo. In the meantime County Engineer, Ted Fox, says his office is looking for creative ways to pay for parts of the project.