Public input sought on northern loop

TUPELO – A public hearing is set today for one of the city’s most ambitious road projects in years.
The hearing will run from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. today on the second floor of City Hall. It concerns a key portion of the “northern loop,” the new road that will connect west Tupelo to the Barnes Crossing area.
One section of the 4.5-mile loop already is completed, with four more yet to be built. Today’s hearing will deal with the leg stretching from Barnes Crossing Road to U.S. Highway 78 and, more specifically, how it crosses 78 and the Natchez Trace Parkway.
“It’s necessary to make sure there are no public objections to the Natchez Trace crossing, and it’s a chance to comment on the 78 crossing, too,” said Greg Pirkle, chairman of the Major Thoroughfare Program.
The Major Thoroughfare Program is a taxpayer-funded city initiative to improve and construct Tupelo’s main arteries.
And the northern loop is its largest and most costly project at an estimated $20 million, half of which will come from state and federal sources.
Those attending the public hearing will learn more about the project from maps and conversations with key parties, including those from the city’s Major Thoroughfare Program, the Natchez Trace Parkway, the Mississippi Department of Transportation and the Federal Highway Administration.
Officials will show attendees the road’s planned route as well as the different ways it could cross the Trace.
Four alternatives for that crossing exist: build a new bridge over the Trace; build the Trace up over the road; take the new road north an additional mile to Beech Springs Road and follow Beech Springs over the Trace and back to Barnes Crossing – this also requires replacing the Beech Springs bridge over the Trace.
Or the city could do nothing, as suggested in alternative four.
Pirkle said the Major Thoroughfare Committee and the Natchez Trace prefer option two.
“It’s better for traffic on the Trace, it won’t disturb as many wetlands,” Pirkle said, and he added that it will help preserve the Trace’s natural viewshed.
Although the meeting will last three hours, it’s an open forum and attendees can come and go as they please. Comments will be received by local, state and federal officials and will weigh into the final decision.
Once the decision is clear, city officials will be able to resume construction of the road, which has sat unfinished for months.
Work should begin again by spring, said John White, project engineer with Engineering Solutions Inc.
When complete, the road will offer another way in and out of the congested Barnes Crossing shopping district. Major Thoroughfare officials have made it their top priority during this phase of the group’s existence.
Each phase lasts five years. Two more years are left on this phase

Contact Emily Le Coz at (662) 678-1588 or emily.lecoz@djournal.com.

Emily Le Coz/NEMS Daily Journal