Wicker Highlights Progress for Mississippi in 2015

Year Marked by Strategic Economic Investments, Notable Anniversaries

December 21, 2015

’Tis the season for counting blessings, many of which extend far beyond Christmas Day. Our state has had an impressive year, filled with big milestones and encouraging progress. Because of these accomplishments, we can look forward to 2016 with confidence and even greater expectations. Here are just a few highlights of what the past year has had in store:

  • Rising above challenges. This year marked the 10-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina and the five-year anniversary of the BP oil spill. Although these disasters tested Mississippi’s resilience and perseverance in different ways, the outcome was the same: We rose to the challenge. Local leaders and dedicated citizens have worked tirelessly to make the Gulf Coast stronger, from rebuilding infrastructure to bringing back jobs. In July, a legal settlement was reached on the penalties that BP owes for the spill’s environmental and economic damages. These funds, directed to Gulf states as part of the RESTORE Act, offer greater certainty for critical restoration projects.

  • Promoting investments in infrastructure. The possibility of reinstating passenger rail service from New Orleans to Orlando could advance the Gulf Coast’s restoration efforts even further. Our coastal communities have not had passenger rail since Hurricane Katrina, but that could change with new reforms I sponsored in the recently passed highway law. Other positive advancements this year include an agreement for a permanent Amtrak stop in Marks in Quitman County and saving the Grenada Railway. Both developments promise to boost the local economy and tourism, not to mention transportation service for approximately 200,000 residents in the region.

    The much-needed highway law, which provides more than $2.7 billion for investments in Mississippi, also includes my provision to reauthorize the Appalachian Regional Commission. The commission plays an instrumental role in fostering economic development and job creation in 24 of our northeastern counties, in addition to improving rural broadband service. More opportunities for economic growth are expected in North Mississippi following the long-awaited opening of portions of I-269 and the designation of Highway 78 as Interstate 22 earlier this year. A safe and reliable transportation network is important to jobs and the quality of life in our communities.
  • Cutting-edge research and development. In May, Mississippi State University was named the flagship institution for the National Center of Excellence for Unmanned Aircraft Systems. This distinction, which reflects the university’s outstanding aerospace reputation, puts our state at the forefront of unmanned aircraft research. Likewise, Mississippi is earning national attention for the University of Mississippi Medical Center’s innovative telehealth advancements in rural areas, connecting underserved patients to the care they need. 

These successes bode well for the coming year. They also come with some sadness. In February, Mississippi lost a courageous public servant with the passing of Congressman Alan Nunnelee. In May, we said goodbye to B.B. King, one of the world’s greatest music legends. Neither will soon be forgotten. Making our state better not only honors these extraordinary lives but paves the way for the next generation of Mississippians to follow in their footsteps. I look forward to continuing the progress we have made into 2016.