By Carlie Kollath Wells and Emily Le Coz/NEMS Daily Journal
TUPELO – A busy strip of North Gloster Street gained the attention Tuesday of city tourism officials who echoed concerns levied months earlier by business owners fearing the worst.
The half-mile stretch north of McCullough Boulevard and south of Lakeshire Drive has drawn criticism for its congestion and perceived safety concerns. An estimated 23,000 vehicles travel that section daily, according to a six-year-old traffic count. But that number likely has climbed as a slate of new restaurants, hotels, shops, offices and a residential subdivision have opened since then.
In April, the owner of Vanelli’s restaurant urged the Tupelo Traffic Committee to install a signal at the intersection of North Gloster and Spicer Drive, which is between La Vino and Vanelli’s. The committee referred it to MDOT for study, then came back in June and said MDOT denied the request.
“MDOT will not approve a traffic light until the northern loop is completed and some of the traffic is alleviated from this area,” according to minutes from that meeting.
The northern loop is a new road under construction that, when complete, will connect west Tupelo to the Barnes Crossing retail district. It could take about two years to complete.
But MDOT District Engineer Bill Jamieson said the agency never made that statement to the Tupelo Traffic Committee. If the city wants a traffic signal and performs its own study proving it’s necessary, he said MDOT will approve it.
“I don’t know why the northern loop would have any bearing on it,” Jamieson said. “I don’t know why anybody would say that.”
City Engineer John Crawley, who serves on the Traffic Committee, told the Daily Journal the minutes don’t accurately reflect the discussion. It was the committee itself, he said, that decided to wait until the completion of the northern loop before considering a traffic signal.
Now, the Tupelo Convention and Visitors Bureau is getting involved in the discussion after its board raised questions first discussed in August at its annual board retreat.
One participant in the discussion compared the tourists’ trek across the five-lane road to a video game called “Frogger,” where the player has to get the frog across the street without being run over.
“I get a lot of foot traffic from the hotels,” said Jonathan Waller, CVB board member and owner of Outback in Tupelo, before Tuesday’s board meeting. “I see a lot of people crossing the street. It’s just very dangerous.”
Most of the people he’s seen crossing the road are leisure visitors or business travelers.
“I would love to see a crosswalk or a light,” he said, suggesting sidewalks be built to connect hotels and restaurants in the area.
Although congested, that section of North Gloster doesn’t have a high accident count involving vehicles, pedestrians or a combination of either, according to Alan Chavers, head of the Tupelo Police Department motor unit.
“Since January, I have not worked personally a crash there, and I haven’t had any of the guys who work for me say that they worked a wreck there or that there’s a problem with wrecks in that area.”
But several North Gloster business owners feel differently.
Hoteliers Carolyn Moss, general manager of Comfort Inn, and Bruce Patel, owner of Comfort Suites, are both CVB board members and echoed Waller’s suggestions for improving access and safety for vehicles and pedestrians.
“I think it inconveniences business, but it doesn’t hurt it,” he said. “At the rate that the area has grown over the past decade, maybe it’s time to look at some new infrastructure.”
Neal McCoy, executive director of the Tupelo CVB, said the CVB and its board members will have discussions going forward about what can be done.
The board hasn’t made a formal decision to do anything, but McCoy said the CVB has an interest in making sure that stretch of North Gloster is pedestrian-friendly.
“We need to study a little more and do our homework,” he said.