Omnibus federal bill funds part of a Tupelo bridge

A spending bill passed by the Senate on Sunday contains $2.8 million for work on the northern loop of Tupelo’s Major Thoroughfare Program, a $26 million project that includes two highway bridges.
U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran, R-Miss., announced a long list of Mississippi projects in the bill, which he helped craft as the ranking member of the Appropriations Committee.
Cochran voted for the bill, which was opposed by U.S. Sen Roger Wicker, R-Miss., and 1st District Rep. Travis Childers, D-Booneville, who voted against the same measure Dec. 10 in the House.
The Senate vote was 57-35, with eight senators not voting, five Repuublicans and three Democrats.
Cochran was one of three Republicans voting for passage. The other GOP supporters were Sens. Richard Shelby of Alabama and Susan Collins of Maine. Three Democrats – Evan Bayh of Indiana, Claire McCaskill of Missouri and Russ Feingold of Wisconsin – voted against the bill.
“I approved of the bill’s funding for important projects in Northeast Mississippi and other parts of the state, but I could not support the overall measure because it increased government spending by 12 percent over last year’s level,” said Wicker.
Childers, through a spokesman, said “it was a decision based on the price tag/fiscal responsibility and the need to reign in government spending during today’s tough times.”
Greg Pirkle, the Tupelo attorney who is chairman of the Major Thoroughfare Committee, said the $2.8 million appropriation partially fulfills one of the legislative goals but is less than 10 percent of the northern loop’s cost.
Pirkle said the $2.8 million will be applied to building a $4.5 million bridge over the Natchez Trace Parkway between Mt. Vernon Road and North Gloster Street. The program has about $900,000 in previously committed federal funds and will seek an additional $500,000 to fully fund the span.
Another bridge crossing U.S. Highway 78, connecting Coley Road with the new road, will cost $7 million to $8 million, with the Mississippi Department of Transportation funding that project.
Pirkle said the roadway, which will cut across farmland and mostly undeveloped countryside, is projected to cost about $13.72 million, paid by the voter-approved, 10-mill Tupelo property tax backing the MTP.
Pirkle said the MTP could be able to start the Natchez Trace bridge preliminary construction with its own funds before full federal funding is in hand.
Pirkle noted that projected costs for the two bridges have risen since the projects were first planned.
Cochran’s statement on Sunday said he has worked with Appropriations Committee Chairman Daniel K. Inouye, D-Hawaii, to try to move all 12 spending bills separately through the Senate.
Contact Joe Rutherford at (662) 678-1597, or e-mail him at joe.rutherford@djournal.com.

Joe Rutherford/NEMS Daily Journal