Deal near on Highway 6-Jackson interchange in Oxford

BATESVILLE – Officials from Oxford and MDOT agreed Tuesday on most details of a plan to provide a safer intersection at the city’s west entrance.
With the plan, Oxford will relinquish a long-sought new interchange at Jackson Avenue and state Highway 6, settling instead for a rerouted but safer intersection. The agreement came during a meeting between city and Transportation Department officials.
In the 12 years that the interchange has been proposed, its projected cost has doubled because of continuing development in the area.
“When we first programmed this, we only set aside $25 million to build the interchange,” said Melinda McGrath, MDOT chief engineer.
Now that the cost is projected at as much as $50 million, she added, “We could not go forward with a project of this expense with such limited benefit.”
As proposed, Jackson Avenue will bend to intersect farther east with Highway 6. The intersection also will be prepared for eventual development of another road to the south.
Warning lights on the approaches, extended signal delays and longer acceleration lanes were among the possibilities discussed to make it safer.
Instead of a parkway linking Highways 6 and 7 around Oxford’s northwest quadrant, MDOT will help extend West Oxford Loop northward with two lanes to Old Sardis Road/Highway 314, providing an extra route to and from FNC Park, the city-county sports complex.
“It is not going to be a parkway. It’s just going to be a road,” Mayor Pat Patterson said.
In exchange for MDOT’s work on West Oxford Loop, Oxford agreed to take over maintenance of parts of University Avenue and Highway 314. MDOT will ask Lafayette County officials to assume maintenance on another stretch of 314.
“The commission policy is that before we can give money to something that’s not on our facility … we have to show that we got something in benefit,” McGrath said.
Also under Tuesday’s agreement, Old Taylor Road will get roundabouts built at both ends of its bridge over Highway 6.
Oxford officials were adamant that the long-delayed projects start quickly.
“We can handle concurrent projects in Oxford,” said Ward 3 Alderman Janice Antonow, noting that the Highway 6-Jackson Avenue intersection and Old Taylor Road are far enough apart to do at the same time.
“We’ve got to get safer, and we’ve got to do it quick, or a carload of girls is going to pull out in front of a sleepy truck driver, and it’s going to be 1987 all over again,” Patterson said, referring to a collision that killed five University of Mississippi students and injured several others between Oxford and Batesville.
McGrath cautioned that right-of-way purchase and updates of environmental statements must precede work but added she and other MDOT officials want to get the projects under way quickly, while current boards are still in office.
“We want to have it under construction, or at least right at it, before anybody changes,” she said.
Contact Errol Castens at (662) 281-1069 or errol.castens@djournal.com.

Errol Castens/NEMS Daily Journal