Changes, debate set for Phase 5 road plan

By Emily Le Coz / NEMS Daily Journal

TUPELO – Widening West Jackson Street will take precedence over Veterans Boulevard on an updated list of road-improvement priorities to be unveiled Monday at a Major Thoroughfare Program meeting.
The MTP oversight committee will reassemble at City Hall for the first time since the Dec. 13 release of its original five-year priority list.
That list has met intense public scrutiny in the weeks since its availability, with some city and business leaders arguing over how to best spend the program’s next $20 million.
Among the points of contention are which roads deserve improvement – and in which order they get done – as well as whether the city should divert some of the funds for non-thoroughfare projects.
The City Council has weighed in on the debate, and at least one member said he won’t support the MTP’s next phase unless his constituents’ needs are met. Another council member complained about the lack of consensus.
On Monday, the council will meet with the MTP committee to hash out those issues and learn more about the road group’s plans for the next five years.
“Hopefully we can both wind up on the same page and that we can better communicate to the public about the direction we’ll be going in,” said council President Fred Pitts. “Everybody needs to know where everybody else stands.”
The MTP committee had proposed widening portions of East Main Street, Thomas Street Extended and Eason Boulevard, as well as adding right-hand turn lanes to North Gloster Street near the mall. It also wanted to widen a section of Veterans Boulevard, which now apparently will get bumped to the wish list.
Together, the projects will cost an estimated $19 million to construct. That doesn’t include engineering, utility relocation or legal fees, which could add an additional 10 percent to the costs.
Money for the program comes from a 10-mil property tax on city residents who vote every five years whether to continue the program, currently in its fourth phase.
“We know we’ll get an update on existing projects, but our primary focus will be getting an update from the Phase 5 subcommittee, which will present a modified recommendation,” said committee Chairman Greg Pirkle, referring to the switching of Veterans with West Jackson.
“We also need to consider whether to deviate from our traditional program of spending all the money on thoroughfares or whether it needs to be more inclusive,” he said. “My fear is that the obstacle will be that people won’t understand or be comfortable with the new direction. We need to get the message out about what the new phase is.”
Contact Emily Le Coz at (662) 678-1588 or emily.lecoz@journalinc.com.