East Main Street project to start in Tupelo

By Emily Le Coz/NEMS Daily Journal

TUPELO – Construction to widen and improve a street termed a “death trap” by one former city official could begin in June after more than a decade of delay.
East Main Street will be expanded to five lanes from Veterans Boulevard east to Willow Road, and to three lanes from Willow east to Hillsdale Drive, by the Major Thoroughfare Program.
The program, overseen by a volunteer committee, will advertise for bids on the job within the next two weeks, said Major Thoroughfare Program Project Director Phillip Harbor. If everything runs according to plan, work could start by late spring.
It will take about one year to complete. An additional stretch of East Main – between U.S. Highway 45 and Veterans – will be widened in conjunction with a state-funded project creating a corridor from downtown to the Elvis Presley Birthplace & Museum. That project could start late this year, Harbor said.
The entire stretch, from U.S. 45 to Hillsdale, will cost an estimated $4.8 million.
Originally, though, East Main was supposed to be improved years ago. According to the 1991 ordinance that created the Major Thoroughfare Program, work on two sections was scheduled in the program’s second phase, which lasted from 1996-2001.
But other projects ended up taking precedence and pushed East Main back, despite heavy opposition from people like former City Councilman Bill Martin, who represented that part of town.
During his term, which ended three years ago, Martin had lobbied for immediate action on the busy street, which ferries some 20,000 vehicles per day, according to the Mississippi Department of Transportation. Martin had argued it wasn’t safe in its current condition and called it a “death trap” after a fatal accident in 2007 that claimed the life of a young mother.
The street currently has four lanes from U.S. 45 to Shady Lake Drive and then narrows to two lanes until the city limits. It has no middle turning lane and a 45-miles-per-hour speed limit.
Contacted by the Daily Journal on Friday, the former councilman said he’s relieved to hear the project finally will get under way.
“It was such a need for this side of town, because there is a high amount of traffic and lots of businesses and no turn lane,” Martin said. “It’s so hazardous.”
Money for the project comes primarily from a 10-mill property tax allocation approved by city voters last May. MDOT also will provide some money through its participation in the downtown-to-Elvis Presley Birthplace corridor.
Major Thoroughfare currently is in its fifth five-year phase. Other ongoing projects include construction of a new road connecting west Tupelo to the Barnes Crossing shopping district and the widening of South Gloster Street.
The new road, called the northern loop, could be open sometime in 2013; South Gloster is scheduled for completion by Dec. 31.
emily.lecoz@journalinc.com