Industrial and neighborhood leaders will meet with Tupelo city

Industrial and neighborhood leaders will meet with Tupelo city officials Friday in a move to resolve a dispute over heavy truck traffic on Blair Street, but a mutually satisfactory compromise seems unlikely.

Neither side rules out an agreement, but neither has offered a proposal that would weaken their positions.

And neither appears thrilled with possible accords raised in a memo to the city’s Traffic Committee last week by city Planning Director Fred Rogers.

Among possible compromises the Traffic Committee and others will view Friday:

A ban on 18-wheelers only, leaving the street open to concrete and gravel trucks.

Permitting eastbound truck traffic (carrying loads), but banning westbound (returning) trucks.

Permitting truck traffic in the mornings (presumably when most loads are sent out), but banning it in the afternoons (primarily return traffic).

Rogers concedes that those proposals, and any others that may pop up, could be unsatisfactory to one side or the other.

Blair Street residents want a total ban on heavy truck traffic – tractor-trailers and concrete and gravel haulers – while nearby Frisco-Reed Industrial Park firms maintain that access to the street is vital to their businesses.

Search for accord

“Certainly, we’d like to find a solution that would be satisfactory to both sides …,” said David Brevard, president of B&B Concrete Inc. “I look toward Friday’s meeting with hope something can be worked out.

“(But) at this point we don’t have a specific proposal to put on the table.”

Cutting off Blair would also cut other conduits to the businesses. Rankin Boulevard, a short block east of Industrial, leads to Jackson Street and from there westward to other industrial and residential growth areas.

Clayton Avenue, whose southern end stops on Blair, provides an easy path north to McCullough Boulevard and points northwest.

Blair Street residents say concerns about safety and neighborhood improvements make it difficult to accept any solution but an outright ban.

“The only thing that’s going to satisfy the residents is not having trucks on Blair Street,” said Spence Kellum, who’ll represent the residents at Friday’s meeting.

“I cannot afford to say that it’s OK to have heavy trucks on the street,” he said, claiming a “moral liability” if a child were injured or killed. “I can’t see a compromise.”

New families have moved to the neighborhood, and more children are on the streets, said Terry Holcomb, chairman of the area’s city-inspired neighborhood improvement committee.

“We’re deeply concerned about the children,” he said. “It’s a busy street anyway. If we compromised, we feel like we’d be compromising our children’s safety.”

Longtime fray

The same dispute has been echoing through the city at least a dozen years, with residents petitioning city leaders at least five times to block the trucks. The street has long been a throughway for commercial vehicles, and some companies in the industrial park counted on the route when deciding to locate there, the business leaders respond.

The only significant change came in 1988 when the city banned truck traffic between 6 p.m. and 6 a.m.

The residents now want the trucks to travel an additional four-tenths of a mile, staying on Industrial Road to Main Street, then traveling to the newly improved intersection at Main Street and Gloster Street (Crosstown).

Industrial Road, which has a short left-turn lane, could be improved to add a longer left-turn lane and a left-turn arrow to ease traffic flow, Kellum said. Cost would be minimal, he contends.

The businesses contend that alternative route would increase travel time too much, adding unacceptable costs. They’ve cited time delays ranging from five to 30 minutes.

Business leaders point particularly to switching operations by Burlington-Northern Railroad, which can halt traffic for many minutes at Crosstown.

A minute or two

Residents maintain that travel time on their proposed route would climb no more than a minute or two on average, a delay that would not cause appreciable cost increases.

Residents also argue that major delays at the Crosstown intersection are few, and are limited by ordinance. For most of the day, the trucks face almost identical delays at the Blair Street railroad crossing that they would face at Crosstown.

Holcomb said residents want to improve the street and were recently successful in getting sidewalks built along part of it. Some residents have also agreed to purchase a few rundown houses on the street and rehabilitate them.

“I think the No. 1 issue is safety, and No. 2 is the health of the neighborhood,” Kellum said.

Residents also charge a bridge on Blair Street is posted with a 15-ton weight limit, a limit routinely violated by the trucks.

Empty concrete trucks weigh about 15 tons, and a load of eight cubic yards would add 16 more tons, Kellum said. Tractor-trailers can carry up to 40 tons, 42 for gravel and sand haulers, he said.

“We know that sometime they are going to have to do something about it,” Holcomb said. “We don’t understand why they don’t do it now.”

Brevard said representatives of the nine businesses at the industrial park are scheduled to meet sometime before the Friday session to discuss possible options. The three proposals offered last week will be discussed, he indicated.

Even if an agreement isn’t reached Friday, at least it can open a dialogue on the question that could lead to a future accord, Brevard said.

“It’s going to be hard to see a compromise,” said Douglas Allan, manager of the Leggett & Platt Co. in the industrial park. But he said he is “absolutely” receptive to any plan that could solve the dispute.

“We certainly don’t want to devalue any neighborhood,” Allan said.

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