Transportation Candidates Discuss Issues In Gulfport

The engineer and the politician squared off Tuesday in a debate that highlighted the differences between southern district transportation commission candidates.

The incumbent in this race is Wayne Brown, a man with an engineering background. His challenger is Larry Benefield, the four term supervisor in Harrison County. Both men shared their road improvement wish lists with the Gulfport Business Club.

Benefield said he decided to leave county politics and run for transportation commissioner "because it was time that someone from the coast would go to Jackson and represent us."

Brown has been in his current role for two terms.

"I'm very proud of what we've been able to accomplish. I'm most proud of what we accomplished after Katrina," Brown told business club members.

Both men were asked a variety of questions about south Mississippi transportation issues. Question number one was where they stood on the proposed elevated roadway through downtown Gulfport that has become so controversial.

Brown told the group that phase of the Canal Road connector is designed, "I will not make that decision. It's not mine to make. But I'll certainly be a party to it."

Benefield immediately stood up, strolled to the microphone and said, "It will be part of my domain, let me just say that."

Even though the Canal Road connecter into Gulfport is years away from being built, what it looks like was one of the main points of emphasis at this luncheon.

After going back and forth on the issue, Benefield said his stance was now with downtown merchants. They've been vocally opposed to the concept. So, he'll fight against it, especially since an estimated 162 acres of wetlands would be filled into to finish phase two of the roadway.

"I think we have to be very careful that if build this road, we don't ruin our community at the same time," said Benefield.

Brown emphasized that the road was years away. However, he told the club, "I personally think that road should be open traffic. It will feed seamlessly into 30th."

The campaign themes voters will hear the next two months became very evident at the luncheon. Benefield kept emphasizing that you don't have to be an engineer, like his opponent, to be an effective transportation commissioner. Brown countered that it was better to be an engineer than a career politician.