OUR OPINION: Saltillo moves toward a thoroughfare program

By NEMS Daily Journal

Saltillo elected officials and citizen volunteers continue moving deliberately and carefully toward a major road improvement program, modeled after Tupelo’s successful, voter-approved Major Thoroughfare Program.
Saltillo, a fast-growing small city, arguably has already outgrown its traffic infrastructure, and the Saltillo Transportation Enhancement Program is designed to identify and then propose action for the most pressing needs.
The Board of Aldermen’s identifying the top three priorities at its Monday night meeting moves the city toward traffic studies by the Mississippi Department of Transportation, and a design proposal by Engineering Solutions Incorporated.
MDOT’s involvement is appropriate because highways it maintains are involved in Saltillo’s problems and potential solution. Its study will assess needs on Mississippi 145, which is particularly congested at certain times near the schools along or adjacent 145 on the northwest side of Saltillo.
The full list of priorities addresses issues in the downtown area and areas closer to the highways serving the city:
* Priority 1 would deal with congestion at the intersection of Cartwright and Mobile Streets near downtown Saltillo.
* Priority 2 would address issues on Mississippi 145 from McDonald’s to the campus of Saltillo United Methodist Church. That priority will link to plans for anticipated school construction.
* Priority 3 would examine congestion along Highway 145 from Mobile Street to Hill Street, also related to school traffic. The improvement between Hill and Mobile streets was listed as the top priority by the STEP committee.
The three areas of focus will be assessed by Randy Hathcock of ESI. He told the board he hopes to have a cost estimate prepared for presentation by May 1, or May 15 at the latest. That aggressive schedule underscores the urgency with which traffic action is viewed.
Mayor Bill Williams said Tuesday members of the Board of Aldermen have been “running” some numbers based on an eight mill to 10 mill tax. An eight mill property tax, Williams said, would generate about $1 million in a five-year phase.
A referendum is anticipated on June 12, with that vote to determine any additional ad valorem tax levied to finance the plan. Saltillo has 2,758 voters, City Clerk Mary Parker said Tuesday.
Tupelo overwhelmingly approved Phase 5 of its MTP in May 2011, a sign of satisfaction with the results the program has produced over two decades.
Once the estimate is submitted, the Saltillo board will pass a resolution to set a date for a referendum where citizens will have the option to vote on an ad valorem tax increase to fund the road improvements. City officials are wise to pursue an intentional planning and funding mechanism that both responds to and prepares for growth.