EDITORIAL: New Main Street

By NEMS Daily Journal

Tupelo’s City Council on Monday approved the first contracts beyond the conceptual phase of the Main Street Master Plan, awarding a contract to ESI Inc. for engineering services related to the Main Street Master Plan. The $2.9 million project will reconfigure the street to three lanes in the heart of downtown, linking it to the Elvis Presley Birthplace in east Tupelo with a bicycle trail.
The city earlier agreed to pay up to $575,000 – or 20 percent of the cost of the $2.9 million project – to be paired with already allocated federal transportation dollars, but the council wanted the traffic test before giving final approval to the project.
During the 12-week test motorists and pedestrians had time to assess how the changes would affect them, traffic lights were synchronized and driving times measured.
The metrics support moving ahead with the project, and the council took that step Tuesday night on a 5 – 2 vote.
Movement toward reconstruction and enhancement of the section of Main Street from Green Street to Elizabeth Street will create a three-lane configuration – two driving lanes, a turn lane, a bike lane and parallel curbside parking, with extensive landscape additions, and paved crosswalks.
Some who opposed the project when it was first proposed still oppose it, but the 12-week lane configuration trial period, officially monitored for a month, measured time, average speed and traffic flow, and showed no major problems.
Downtown Tupelo is a product of urban evolution and traffic patterns over many decades. The new Main Street proposal, in the longer view, continues almost a century of change.
In the early 20th century, the concentration of downtown shopping – and Tupelo’s main industrial district – was Spring Street, which was U.S. Highway 45 before a “new” highway that’s now Gloster Street/Mississippi 145 shifted traffic away from the north-south axis of downtown. The same kind of shift is expected when the new Mississippi Highway 6 opens with a direct connector near the Tupelo-Verona city limits, to the newest Highway 45, a four-lane artery that borders the east side of downtown, with controlled access. Main Street as it’s now configured is also Mississippi Highway 6, the main east-west artery through Tupelo; that will change in less than two years.
Downtown Tupelo arguably has more employees in the district than ever before, but many of the people who work downtown are not in retail as was long the case, but in financial services, government, professional services and entertainment.
The newest redesign will enrich and rebalance the mix.