First Mississippi stretch of I-69 opens to the public

The trip to Tunica just got shorter for many Mid-Southerners.

Tuesday, the first local stretch of the new Interstate 69, running from Interstate 55 to Highway 61 in Northern Mississippi, opened to the public.

Residents from miles around drove to an opening ceremony, excited by the possibilities for growth the new highway will bring to the area.  Mississippi Senator Trent Lott, speaking during the ceremony, agreed, saying the road would bring, "better roads, more houses, more jobs, more opportunity."

One dozen classic Studebaker automobiles christened the new highway, a project that cost nearly $137 million.  $56 million was funded by the federal government, with the rest coming from the state, mostly through gaming taxes.

"I think it will be used a tremendous amount," said Mississippi Department of Transportation District Engineer James Dickerson. "It cuts the times getting to the casinos in Tunica, probably about 15 to 20 minutes versus any other way you could go."

People attending the ceremony sounded excited to do just that.

Interstate 69 is scheduled to be fully completed by 2025, stretching from Canada to Mexico.