South Gloster done, progress on East Main

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By Robbie Ward/NEMS Daily Journal

TUPELO – South Gloster Street’s obstacle course of orange and white cones and barrels and construction workers may have been worth it after all.
Nearly two weeks after final construction crews left the street with an added turn lane, businesses that once complained of losing about 30 percent of their sales from the construction interruption now welcome the results.
“I’m getting great feedback from it,” said Scarlet Wilson, owner of Shipley’s Donuts on South Gloster. “We’ve never had a turn lane.”
For decades, businesses and motorists alike complained about traffic congestion along the major city street, for the longest time a four-lane that caused problems when motorists were turning and entering the roadway. But when construction started from where the extended Highway 6 will connect and continued to Garfield Street near North Mississippi Medical Center, businesspeople in the area tried to stay patient.
“I just kept saying ‘when they’re through, it’ll be great,’” Wilson said.
Many business owners along the major city artery echo similar thoughts.
As Tupelo’s Major Thoroughfare Committee reached this recent completion milestone in the southern part of the city, paving along East Main Street from Veterans Boulevard to Hillsdale Drive should be complete this week and that section of roadway finished by July.
The Major Thoroughfare Committee oversees a mostly citizen-funded program that voters decide whether to continue every five years through a referendum. Taxes for the program generate about $4 million annually.
Greg Pirkle, chairman of the MTC, said he has enjoyed hearing positive feedback from people describing smooth drives along South Gloster during lunchtime traffic. With this project wrapping up, the second stage of the East Main Street project should begin in July.
“The city believes it’s important to reduce congestion on East Main Street,” Pirkle said.
The second phase of the East Main Street project will go from Highway 45 to Veterans Boulevard and include a partnership with the state Department of Transportation that enhances the area with bike paths.
A longer project called the “northern loop,” continues under construction with bridges at the Natchez Trace and Highway 78 expected to take until late 2014 to finish, creating easier access to shopping areas in north Tupelo.
Right of way issues have slowed construction at the Highway 78 bridge, while rain limited work on the other bridge but both are still expected to finish on time.
As the current MTC projects run their course, a traffic study by the engineering firm Civil-Link, LLC, should be complete in a matter of weeks. It will help the committee prioritize traffic work needed as the thoroughfare program seeks approval of another five-year term of work in 2016.
“We like to come together 21⁄2 years before the vote and figure out what’s most important and have public meetings to discuss it,” Pirkle said. “We’re excited about having this traffic study done now.”
robbie.ward@journalinc.com