Major Thoroughfare committee could get much-needed approval for a highly anticipated project

TUPELO – Construction of a second Eason Boulevard bridge over Town Creek could get underway this summer after more than a year of delays, city transportation officials learned Monday.
Both the state and federal governments are expected within the next two weeks to approve funding about half of the $2.3 million project from stimulus money. After the approval, members of the city’s Major Thoroughfare Committee can seek bidders for the construction contract, said Jim Epps of Cook Coggin Engineering, one of the two engineering firms hired to help the committee. Engineering Solutions Inc. is the other.
“Within six weeks of time, we can … start construction,” Epps told members of the volunteer-citizen committee, which oversees major road projects within the city limits.
The project was supposed to have started more than a year ago, but governmental red tape combined with new funding rules plagued it from the start.
“There have been delays with getting approval with MDOT and then the stimulus funds,” said Major Thoroughfare Project Manager Phillip Harbor. “It looks like we’ve completed before us now, so I hope it’s really going to happen this time.”
The two-lane bridge will take between nine months and a year to complete. It will sit parallel to an existing two-lane bridge that handles both east-and-west traffic on the five-lane boulevard. When it’s done, the new bridge will take westbound vehicles and the old bridge will take eastbound, thus alleviating the bottlenecks that occur when all five lanes squeeze onto the single bridge.
“It’s been a long time in coming and we’ve needed that connection,” said committee Chairman Greg Pirkle, “but I’m glad we waited until we had financial support from MDOT and the federal government, because it will help on our other Tupelo roads.”
In addition to the bridge, committee members also are building a road connecting west Tupelo to the Barnes Crossing commercial district. That project, called the northern loop, also has met repeated obstacles. So far, one leg of the road has been constructed even though committee members thought they’d be halfway through by now.
Pirkle said during the meeting that the rest of the road might start this summer pending approval from state and federal agencies.
If that happens, he said, “we could go from famine to feast in a period of three months.”
That’s good news for the committee, which operates in five-year phases and whose projects are funded by city tax dollars. Residents vote at the end of each phase whether to continue the program another five years. So far, voters have approved four phases, but committee members worry they won’t get a fifth unless they can do all the projects on their punch list.
That looked unlikely just months ago based on the seemingly insurmountable paperwork demanded by state and federal agencies for project funding approval. But Pirkle and Harbor said they hope those days are behind them – at least for now.

Emily Le Coz/NEMS Daily Journal