City officials mull Jackson Street tunnel in Tupelo

TUPELO – The mayor and City Council likely will oppose the Tupelo Regional Airport’s plan to reroute a major east-west thoroughfare as part of a runway expansion project.
Instead, municipal officials want the airport to tunnel West Jackson Street Extended under the flight zone to keep its original trajectory. And they think they have the support to do it.
“Senator Wicker is for the tunnel,” Mayor Jack Reed Jr. said during a council retreat Monday at City Hall. “He hears it from the residents. We have an ally in Roger for the tunnel.”
U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., lives in Tupelo and has been crucial in securing federal dollars for airport improvement projects.
City leaders, who have the final say in the project, voiced concerns during a retreat, just three days before the airport’s public meeting to unveil the plans and seek public comment.
That meeting will be Thursday at City Hall. It’s the last step of a required environmental assessment of the airport’s plans to expand the runway and adjust the road around the airport.
Airport officials say they must close a portion of West Jackson Street Extended and shift it because it is already in violation of the Federal Aviation Administration’s “Runway Protection Zone,” which bars traffic from getting too close to a runway.
The road currently carries traffic between Coley Road and downtown.
The airport wants to reroute Jackson Extended to tie in with Colonial Estates Road, a residential street that runs north and south. Instead of emptying westbound traffic onto Coley, the new route would dump vehicles onto McCullough Boulevard.
Under the plan, part of Colonial Estates Road would move west about 50 yards, running parallel along its current route from West Jackson Extended to where it would continue on its original course near Lansdowne Drive.
However, the current Colonial Estates Road now providing direct access to those neighborhoods would remain.
Opponents of the plan have argued that Jackson Extended should be converted to a tunnel, and Anderson said that remains a possibility. But the first plan will cost about $2.5 million – with federal money funding 95 percent of it – while a tunnel would cost about $7 million.
Anderson has suggested rerouting the road first and seeking funds for a tunnel later.
Municipal leaders don’t necessarily agree. “If you can’t do a tunnel, don’t do it at all,” said Ward 6 Councilman Mike Bryan, whose district includes the airport.
Bryan said too many of his constituents oppose rerouting Jackson Extended. If a tunnel is feasible – and if Wicker can help secure funds to build it – that should be the city’s priority, he said.
But the mayor and council need to take a stand soon if they take one at all, Bryan said, because it’s not fair to oppose a project after letting it progress so long.
Plans for shifting West Jackson Extended were first discussed in July 2008 when airport officials announced the proposed runway extention. One month later, the council had voted 8-1 in favor of the rerouting. Bryan was the sole member to oppose it.
On Monday, council members discussed amending that vote to make clear they want a tunnel and not a new route. It’s uncertain when – or whether – that will happen.
The airport plans to extend its 6,500-foot runway to 7,500 – and possibly 8,000 – feet. The multi-year project will cost about $7 million and, like the road, will be almost entirely funded by federal grants.

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

Emily Le Coz/NEMS Daily Journal