3Qs with Greg Pirkle/Major Thoroughfare Committee

Tupelo’s Major Thoroughfare Committee passed a major milestone this month when it began advertising for contractors to resume construction of the northern loop. The loop will connect west Tupelo to the Barnes Crossing shopping area with a new road. Greg Pirkle, chairman of the committee, spoke recently with the Daily Journal about the project and future plans.

Q: The northern loop marks the first time the Major Thoroughfare Program has built an entirely new road. What has been the most challenging aspect of this?
A: The delay that results from bureaucracy and red tape. There has been an excitement on the part of the community for the completion of the road, the engineering has been complete and the money for construction has been in the bank. But we still have not been able to build the road. It is not that the state and federal agencies have tried to block the road. The individual government officials have been cooperative and helpful. But the procedures that they require and the number of people who must review and approve parts of the project make the process seem like wading through molasses. We have worked with MDOT, National Park Service (Natchez Trace Parkway), the Chicksaw Nation, Federal Highway Administration and the Army Corps of Engineers on issues such as wetlands, streams, noise, air quality, public notice, public review, public comments, cultural impact, historical and archaeological impact, bridge design, flood plane, visual impact, National Park right of way, and the specific order and timing of each step. The process has been tedious and very frustrating at times, but we see a light at the end of the tunnel now.

Q: Can you tell us more about the two bridges along the northern loop and what is happening with them at this point?
A: There is one bridge over Highway 78 and one over the Natchez Trace. The funding for both bridges is complete, and the engineering has started on both. The bridge over Highway 78 will be a full interchange with exits onto and off Highway 78. That bridge is an MDOT project, which means MDOT pays for and builds the bridge. The bridge at the Natchez Trace will cross over the existing Natchez Trace. There will not be an exit onto or off the Natchez Trace at that crossing.

Q: Any early ideas on where the Major Thoroughfare Program will concentrate its efforts if it’s approved for a Phase V?
A: The subcommittee that will make that recommendation has reviewed traffic counts and accident reports, and met with city department heads. The only preliminary report that I can give is that they are considering the completion of any projects that were in former phases but that were not completed due to the lack of funds or inability to acquire right of way. The group has committed to make a set of recommendations to the full committee by our December meeting. That will give the committee time to consider the suggested projects and present the proposal to the public before the vote next year on whether to continue the program.

NEMS Daily Journal