Disagreements hold up Oxford road improvement

By Alyssa Schnugg/Oxford Eagle

OXFORD – If city and county officials could come to terms with the Mississippi Department of Transportation soon, an improved, much safer intersection at Mississippi Highway 6 and West Jackson Avenue would still be at least three years away.
The hangup is in a memorandum of understanding, which is an agreement on a basic plan of action.
“MDOT is prepared to complete the intersection pre-construction phases once the MOU is agreed on,” said Richard Allen, a transportation department engineer. “Right-of-way acquisition and utility relocations would follow and the project advertised for construction based upon available funding. This is at least three years out.”
Whether that memorandum of understanding will be signed anytime soon is still being debated by city and county officials. Both sides have admitted in public meetings to having “issues” with the MOU.

Agreement needed
Reaching an agreement on this and the other projects is crucial if the community is ever to make safer an intersection that’s considered one of the most dangerous in the area.
Bart Robinson, engineer for the city of Oxford, said he recently sent a “red-lined” memorandum of understanding back to the transportation department.
“We haven’t heard back from MDOT as of yet. It basically boils down to money,” said Robinson, who added what he sent to MDOT contained only issues the city had and didn’t include comments, suggestions or concerns from the Lafayette County Board of Supervisors.
Last year, city and county officials agreed to scrap a $50 million overhaul of the intersection that would have changed the intersection to an interchange and include a new frontage road along Highway 6 in front of Discount Building Materials, as well as a realignment of Thacker Road and major bypass for West Jackson Avenue.
The new plan calls for the current intersection to move east, closer to the Walmart.
“It would still be a red-lighted, signaled intersection,” Robinson said. “But it would allow for visibility.”
MDOT will fund the project, which has an estimated cost now of $7.5 million.
However, the MOU presented to the city and county has the intersection and two other local projects included under the same contract. The other two projects are what was once known as the “Toby Tubby Parkway,” which is now a proposed road connecting West Oxford Loop to Mississippi Highway 314 to create another route to the FNC ball fields, and roundabouts on the Old Taylor Road exit off Highway 6.
In 2007, the Toby Tubby project was estimated to cost $6.5 million, with MDOT offering to fund the project up to $6 million. In the MOU sent recently, the cost has increased to $7.5 million with MDOT still chipping in only $6 million.
“Cost of things have gone up,” Robinson said. “That leaves the city and county coming up with at least $1.5 million. However, as costs continue to go up and the project being three years out, it could easily cost almost $9 million with another $800,000 to $900,000 in engineering expenses that the city and county would have to come up with.”
While the additional costs are a bother to Supervisor Lloyd Oliphant, he said he and his fellow supervisors have issues with the three projects being under one MOU.
“We recognize the need to address the three areas both from a safety standpoint as well as a logical approach to alleviating some of the traffic flow issues in the community,” Oliphant said. “The fact that all three projects have now been combined into one MOU complicates the issue somewhat due to the possibility that one snap in one of the projects could conceivably stop all three projects. It’s not an insurmountable problem, but it is of concern.”