Bridge to open at long last

By Emily Le Coz/NEMS Daily Journal

TUPELO – City officials eagerly await this week’s anticipated opening of the Eason Boulevard bridge over Town Creek, which could happen as early as Monday or Tuesday.
The $2.3 million span has been in the works almost an entire decade, but financial setbacks and red tape had delayed the project until last November when construction finally began.
When it opens, it will be the first completed project in Phase 4 of the Major Thoroughfare Program. The program uses taxpayer money to improve the city’s busiest roads and intersections and runs in five-year phases.
The current phase began in January 2007.
In addition to the Eason bridge, this phase also includes widening South Gloster and East Main streets and building a new road connecting west Tupelo to the Barnes Crossing commercial district.
A portion of the new road has been completed, with several more sections currently under construction. And engineering on the two widening projects has begun, but construction hasn’t yet started.
When it opens, the bridge will ferry two lanes of eastbound traffic over the creek while allowing an existing two-lane bridge to handle westbound vehicles.
Currently, the existing bridge carries both eastbound and westbound traffic, which must squeeze onto the two-lane structure from the five-lane road. The situation frequently causes bottlenecks and congestion at that site.
“Opening two more lanes on the Eason Bridge will make a tremendous contribution to safety and efficiency as our citizens travel this east-west corridor,” said Mayor Jack Reed Jr. “It also enhances our position as a college town by increasing access to the college campus.”
Both Itawamba Community College and the University of Mississippi have campuses on Eason Boulevard. And roughly 15,000 motorists travel that stretch of road daily, according to statistics from the Mississippi Department of Transportation.
The high-traffic volume along the boulevard prompted the Major Thoroughfare Program Committee to widen the stretch during its previous five-year phase. But the group didn’t have enough money to add another bridge until the current phase.
“This bridge was supposed to be in Phase 3, but the money was not there,” said committee Chairman Greg Pirkle. “It turns out it was a great opportunity, because it qualified for stimulus money by waiting until Phase 4.”
Money for the bridge will be provided almost exclusively from federal funds. Of its total cost, $1.2 million is coming from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, otherwise known as the federal stimulus bill.
Most of the rest comes from federally earmarked money, said Phillip Harbor, Major Thoroughfare project director.
Harbour said workers likely will close one or two lanes of the bridge even after it opens to complete minor details, so an official ribbon cutting isn’t scheduled until later next month.
Carson Construction is overseeing the project.

Contact Emily Le Coz at (662) 678-1588 or emily.lecoz@djournal.com.