A bill to extend a multi-use path from Riverside Park to Columbus Air Force Base is headed to the Mississippi Senate.
The House approved the bill on Thursday by a 118-2 margin, with full support from Golden Triangle representatives. The bill (HB1453) calls for the state to issue up to $25 million in bonds — at a clip not to exceed $5 million per year — to specifically fund recreational and quality of life improvements for the Air Force base, namely a 14-mile multi-use path extension that would run between Riverside Park and the base.
A revenue bill, it required three-fifths approval from House members to move on to the Senate. District 39 Rep. Jeff Smith (R-Columbus), the chairman of the House ways and means committee and the bill’s sponsor, said he was elated to see his colleagues approve the plan.
“I am overjoyed at the size of the majority of House members that adopted the Riverwalk extension for quality of life assistance to Columbus Air Force Base,” Smith said Monday.
The project would add 14 miles to the existing multi-use track at Riverside Park, bringing the total length to 16.2 miles. It would include three separate, parallel tracks — for walking, jogging and bicycling — and pass through the Lock and Dam area, Dwayne Hayes Park and connect to the Air Force base at Highway 373. Exercise and play areas will be intermittently placed along the trail, according to the plan.
Smith said he hopes to also see federal and local funding sources assist the project.
Enhancing the quality of life at CAFB could prove critical to its survival, as the federal Base Realignment and Closure Commission has listed quality of life as a critical deficiency in the area.
Despite the perceived need, and the overwhelming House support, District 17 Sen. Chuck Younger (R-Columbus) said the bill would have a tough time clearing the Senate, where it must also receive at least 60-percent approval. Still, he plans to support it.
“It’s going to be hard to get it to pass the Senate, but I’m going to do what I can to help it pass,” Younger said. “It’s got its pros and cons. The con is that it’s expensive. But the pro is that there is a great need for something like this in Columbus, especially for bike access.”
Younger said not only would the path enhance the Air Force base, he believes it would also increase general tourism in Columbus to the point that it would ultimately pay for itself. For instance, if the path draws out-of-town visitors, he said they would likely shop and eat in Columbus before going home.
“This can only be beneficial as a bridge between the Air Force base and the Columbus community,” Younger said. “I know it’s expensive, but I believe it’s going to bring in revenue in the long run and be of great benefit to Columbus.”
District 16 Sen. Angela Turner (D-West Point) said she would not comment on the bill until she had a chance to study it. The Dispatch could not reach District 15 Sen. Gary Jackson (R-Starkville) on Monday for comment.
Zack Plair is the managing editor for The Dispatch.
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