By Robbie Ward
TUPELO – With construction complete on part of East Main Street, it will begin at another section likely by the end of the year, extending to Elvis’ birthplace and connecting the tourist attraction to downtown with bike paths and sidewalks.
When all is complete, the Main Street project that connects to the birthplace will result in an estimated $10.3 million in infrastructure improvements and result in a better connection between east Tupelo and downtown and opportunities for more development along the area.
“We want to see improved connectivity from east Tupelo to West (Highway) 45,” said Greg Pirkle, chairman of the Major Thoroughfare Program. “Our hope is businesses there will see increased profitability.”
Construction has ended on the nearly mile-long stretch on Main Street from Veterans Boulevard to Hillsdale Drive. Engineers for the project and the city began a few weeks ago inspecting the final work on $3.6 million project that added a fifth lane and a third lane east of Hillsdale.
This first phase is part of the Major Thoroughfare Program, a taxpayer-funded program voted on every five years to earmark an extra 10 mills to fund major street developments and improvements. Funding for the second phase of the Main Street project comes from the MTP, the city of Tupelo and a federal grant paid through the Mississippi Department of Transportation.
Debbie Brangenberg, director of the Tupelo Main Street Association and the Elvis Festival, said the downtown project beginning at Green Street will permanently create two lanes to east of the Fairpark area and add bike paths and sidewalks extending to Veterans Boulevard to the birthplace.
Also included in the downtown changes will be landscaping to just past the railroad tracks near Front Street and expanding bridges west of Veterans Boulevard.
With an estimated construction time of 15 to 18 months, the project should end by summer 2015. Currently, city officials working on the project are completing related documents required by MDOT before construction can begin.
“If all things go according to plan, we hope to be under construction by the end of the year,” Brangenberg said.
The project will improve the look of downtown and allow people to connect from downtown to the birthplace on bike or foot safer than current conditions allow, she said. Planning for the changes has been part of a downtown master plan expected to improve safety for pedestrians, add more downtown parking and connect downtown with east Tupelo.
“One of the things it will do is add quality of life to our community,” she said. “We want to be a walkable community.”