Main Street road project 101: Tupelo to test three-laning plan

By Carlie Kollath/NEMS Daily Journal

TUPELO – The Downtown Tupelo Main Street Association has spent the past four years brainstorming and planning ways to improve the central business district.
Now the group is shifting into its action phase.
The group is moving forward with its master plan, which calls for a $2.9 million overhaul of a section of Main Street to make it more appealing to shoppers, diners and tourists.
The City Council already has given the group the go-ahead for the plan. It also has committed money, enabling Main Street to secure state and federal funding for 80 percent of the project.
However, council members have not approved a specific design.
A major sticking point of the proposed design is the three-laning of Main Street from Green Street to Elizabeth Street.Proponents of the plan say the three-lane design will reduce traffic congestion and make the area safer for pedestrians and drivers.
“There is a high percentage of constituents who don’t think it’s going to work,” Ward 3 Councilman Jim Newell said at a council work session last week. “There’s a lot of speculation out there in general about the project.”
The Main Street Association hopes that a test of the proposed lane configuration will help ease the public’s concern.
“Studies and real projects prove that this will work,” said Jon Milstead of the Community Development Foundation, which is providing planning and technical services for the project. “It’s been done in many cases throughout the U.S. on similar projects and on similar roads.”
For the six-week test, the major elements of the proposed plan will be added temporarily.
Tupelo Water amp& Light already has installed left-turn signals at both sides of the Main-Front street intersection.
Tupelo Public Works is ready to use tape to temporarily restripe the road to be two lanes of traffic with a center turn lane. The work was scheduled to be done already, but the wet, cold weather has delayed the work.
The test was slated to begin Monday. Now, officials hope to start the lane-change test in mid-March, as long as the weather cooperates.
The bike lanes and the proposed parking changes won’t be a part of next month’s test, and left-turn arrows won’t be installed at Broadway and Spring streets for the test either.
However, if the test shows that the reconfiguration works and the City Council approves the design, then bike lanes, left-turn arrows and about 60 parking spaces will be added to downtown.
While much of the public focus has been on the reconfigured traffic lanes, Milstead said only 3 percent of the project’s budget, or $75,000, will be spent on the three-laning and the addition of the bike lanes, if they are approved.
Much more money is being spent on beautifying the area and connecting downtown Tupelo to the Elvis Presley Birthplace.
Decorative street lighting, with an estimated cost of $351,750, is taking up a big chunk of the funds. Other high-dollar items include new asphalt, sidewalks, plants, bricked crosswalks and pedestrian signals at the crosswalks.
Ward 4 Councilwoman Nettie Davis expressed her support of the project at last week’s work session, citing her experience with the downtown area in Greenville, S.C. Leaders there in the 1960s began implementing a multifaceted downtown revitalization program that included beautifying the area with trees and narrowing Main Street from four lanes to two lanes.
“It can work,” Davis said. “It had a way of drawing people back to the downtown area.”
For more see Sunday’s Daily Journal.
Contact Carlie Kollath at (662) 678-1598 or carlie.kollath@journalinc.com.