City unveils Phase 5 road upgrades

By EMILY LECOZ / NEMS Daily Journal

TUPELO – Projects bumped from the Major Thoroughfare Committee’s past and present to-do lists reappeared Monday as the group revealed its plans for the next five years.
Portions of East Main Street, Eason Boulevard and Thomas Street Extended – all of which previously were scheduled for work – will be widened if Tupelo voters decide to renew the program for another phase.
Also on tap are plans to widen a section of Veterans Boulevard, add right-turn lanes on both sides of North Gloster Street near the mall and work with the city on a series of smaller road improvements.
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.
The next vote occurs in May, although an election date won’t be set until committee members and the City Council approve the plan – probably sometime next month.
“We reviewed traffic counts, interviewed city officials, CDF officials, local citizens and business owners, looked at growth projections in the city and even looked at where the potential developments will be,” said Major Thoroughfare Committee member Chuck Imbler Jr.
Imbler heads the Phase 5 subcommittee, whose members spent months studying the city’s traffic needs and culling through a list of possible improvements to arrive at the final recommendations.
Members of the full committee discussed the recommendations at their monthly meeting Monday at City Hall. Among the most contentious issue was the subcommittee’s decision to set aside 2.5 mils of its budget – about $5 million – for smaller street improvements.
Typically, the municipality handles smaller streets while the Major Thoroughfare group focuses on the large corridors. In the current and previous phases, the committee has widened Gloster and Main streets, Eason and Cliff Gookin boulevards and Coley Road. It also is building a new road through west Tupelo to the Barnes Crossing shopping district.
Member Brad Prewitt said the committee should let the city tackle its own issues and spend the money on more pressing needs, like widening West Jackson Street.
“If there is any street in this town that is clogged up,” Prewitt said, “I’d put West Jackson over Veterans Boulevard any day.”
Widening the busy east-west corridor to three lanes is one of the group’s secondary projects for Phase 5, meaning it’s not a priority but will appear farther down on the list in case extra money becomes available.
It’d cost about $10 million to widen West Jackson from Gloster to Coley, not including the cost of property purchases, engineering, utility relocation or legal fees.
“We’d all like to do it,” Imbler said, referring to Jackson. “You go to Washington and find us the money.”
Also on the back burner for the next phase are more widening projects for East Main and Veterans, widening West Main Street to McPherson Road, a new Front Street entrance to U.S. 45 and a new frontage road along U.S. 78 to the Mall at Barnes Crossing.
Members will spend the next month seeking public input before voting on the plan. It then will go to the council for its approval. If it passes, the committee will begin an aggressive education and lobbying campaign to drum up support for the May election.
“What I try to convey when talking to people is, are we making a difference with the 10 mils, the $20 million?” committee Chairman Greg Pirkle said. “Is this going to help us in Tupelo enjoy the higher standard of living we’ve come to expect?”
Contact Emily Le Coz at (662) 678-1588 or emily.lecoz@djournal.com.