South Gloster widening advances

TUPELO – Although funding remains murky, the $4.3 million South Gloster Street widening project has gone out for bids.
Contractors have until April 19 to compete for the chance to five-lane the heavily traveled strip from Garfield Street south to the new state Highway 6. Contracts could be awarded in early May with construction set to begin immediately thereafter. It will take one year to complete.
The project is spearheaded by the Major Thoroughfare Program, a taxpayer-funded initiative that builds and improves some of the city’s largest streets.
But the program lacks funding for South Gloster, which it had hoped to complete during its current five-year phase until other projects’ cost overruns forced it out.
So despite seeking bidders, the Major Thoroughfare Program can’t award a contract unless voters, in a May 3 special election, decide to renew the MTP for a fifth phase.
If voters approve, the group can count on an additional $4 million in revenue annually from a 10-mill property tax levy.
“It is exciting,” said MTP Committee Chairman Greg Pirkle. “We just want the people of Tupelo, and South Gloster in particular, to know we are serious about completing South Gloster. And we really anticipate that Phase 5 will pass.”
If the vote fails, however, program funding will stop at the end of this year. That leaves enough money to complete its current projects – the Town Creek Bridge on Eason Boulevard and construction of a new road in west Tupelo – but not enough for South Gloster.
In that case, Pirkle said, the group would seek funding from the city.
City Council members had offered municipal funds for the project earlier this year, but the proposal died after Pirkle questioned their motives. He said taking the money would signal doubt about the program’s future, and he didn’t want to do that.
Not included in the project are sidewalks, bike lanes, crosswalks or other pedestrian-friendly features encouraged by Tupelo’s recently adopted Complete Streets Policy. The policy requires all city-funded road projects to consider adding some or all of those amenities if economically feasible.
Pirkle said engineers had calculated the cost of bike lanes and sidewalks on South Gloster and found them cost prohibitive. So they’re not included in the final project design.
Jim Epps of Cook Coggin Engineers, who designed the South Gloster project and did the calculations, couldn’t be reached for comment.
The city’s Development Services Department, which is tasked with implementing the policy, was not consulted by Epps or the Major Thoroughfare Committee. The department has alternative solutions to reduce the cost of those amenities, making them more feasible for large-scale projects.
But City Planner Pat Falkner said the policy doesn’t require the department’s consultation, either – at least not on this project.
Pirkle said the project already met approval from the council when it adopted the group’s minutes accepting the project design.

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

Emily Le Coz/NEMS Daily Journal