MDOT wants moratorium on growth near Oxford interchange

By Errol Castens/NEMS Daily Journal

OXFORD – Mississippi Department of Transportation officials want the city of Oxford to declare a six-month moratorium on development near the intersection of State Highway 6 and Jackson Avenue.
For a decade, MDOT and Oxford have wanted to replace the intersection that connects the two major traffic arteries.
So far, though, the process has never gotten past planning – no land bought, no dirt moved – despite a history of fatal and near-fatal collisions at the junction.
Much of the conversation over the years has been via committees from either body. Thursday, Oxford’s city board met for a conference call with MDOT officials, including several engineers and Executive Director Butch Brown, “so nothing is lost in translation,” Mayor Pat Patterson said.
MDOT officials said Oxford’s continuing growth in the area is a handicap to the project, essentially providing a moving – and increasingly expensive – target.
“The development is so keen that the terrain changes with every development,” Brown said.
Melinda Grath, an engineer with MDOT’s Batesville office, said one difficulty is that every new commercial development increases the cost of acquiring right-of-way for the project.
Already, acquisition costs are approaching the projected construction costs, she said.
But city officials said they cannot turn down development requests without a transportation plan that shows the proposed frontage road from West Oxford Loop to 200 feet west of the present Thacker Road intersection with Highway 6.
Even without the plan, though, they said recent permits in the area have been contingent on approval from MDOT.
Several Oxford officials also noted that MDOT had voiced the same concerns about escalating costs when the project was initiated – and that land values had since tripled.
“There isn’t much doubt in our collective minds that if we wait another five years these exact same problems will continue to exist,” Patterson said.
Oxford officials agreed to talk with two developers about moving their existing or proposed entrances to accommodate the interchange. The city attorney also will research whether a six-month moratorium on development in the immediate area can legally be done.
In response, MDOT officials promised to send a delegation to Oxford in a few weeks with a flow chart of how the interchange can be accomplished.
“We want this plan to work; we want to get it off the books,” Brown said. “We’re going to have to have some help out of you all with your ordinances and permits.”

Contact reporter Errol Castens at (662) 281-1069 or errol.castens@djournal.com.