I drove up and down Blair Street today, counting the number of homes and businesses along the half-mile stretch, and wondering how this little residential street in Tupelo could be repeatedly responsible for so much controversy and so much bitterness.
I call Blair a residential street because there are 25 homes and two apartment complexes that either face Blair or are on Blair. In contrast, there are four businesses -Tupelo Floral, State Beauty Supply, Jim Bain’s Pharmacy and the Passport Inn – that either face or are on Blair.
And yet, nine businesses in the Frisco-Reed Industrial Park consider Blair Street an industrial area – mainly because of the Burlington Northern Railroad that bisects Blair – and want heavy truck traffic generated by their plants to be allowed to continue on the street.
According to a memo written earlier this month by City Planner Fred Rogers, the Blair Street issue has been on the city’s Traffic Committee Agenda at least five times in the last 10 years and Rogers said he believes that previous administrations dealt with the problem on several occasions even further back than 10 years.
The last action of the City Council changing Blair Street rules was in 1988, when members voted to restrict truck traffic before 6 a.m. and after 6 p.m.
Here it is May 1996 and the dilemma again is before council members: Do they side with the nine industries that would be adversely affected in lost time and fuel if they are required to reroute their trucks through the newly renovated Crosstown? Or do they side with 25 Blair Street households, who view the truck traffic as a safety hazard for their children who play and ride bicycles near the street and to people pulling in and out of driveways to their homes?
The Traffic Committee is having a special meeting Friday to again hear from the Blair Street residents, and the nine businesses, about the traffic problem. The Traffic Committee’s recommendation will then be heard by the council members at their next meeting, when the council will vote on whether to ban industrial truck traffic on Blair or let it continue.
I’m glad I’m not in the council’s shoes. I certainly wouldn’t want to have to decide between keeping big business happy or helping out a small neighborhood of people who have repeatedly tried, to no avail, to fight City Hall.
The nine businesses in the industrial park employ more than 525 people, most of whom are heads of households. These nine industries also provide a very substantial tax base contribution to the city.
On the flip side, there are other residents besides those on Blair Street affected by the truck traffic: I, for instance, live on Clayton Avenue, just five or six houses down from Blair Street. Because Clayton is another so-called shortcut for trucks trying to get to North Gloster or McCullough Boulevard from the industrial park, truck traffic is also extremely heavy on my street.
Blair Street residents have also taken strides just this year to take back and improve their neighborhood: a month or so ago the Neighborhood Improvements Program was successful in getting new sidewalks laid on a good part of Blair.
In the past, Tupelo aldermen/councilmen have consistently sided with industry on the Blair Street issue, even though siding with the neighborhood wouldn’t cost the nine industries but a few thousand a year in lost time and fuel expenses.
Our council is in fact routinely business friendly, giving tax breaks at almost every meeting to new or expanding businesses.
When is our council going to give a break to Blair Street residents?
Ginna Parsons is Daily Journal news editor.