By Joe Rutherford
TUPELO – A project 11 years in the making came to fruition Friday when the first portion of the long-awaited Northern Loop opened to traffic.
Tupelo Major Thoroughfare Committee chairman Greg Pirkle thanked a long list of cooperating officials and agencies whose work led to the opening of the east link in the new West Barnes Crossing Road, a five-lane connector from North Gloster Street via Mount Vernon Road to U.S. 78 near Belden.
A remarkably cool morning for late July enhanced the Friday morning ribbon-cutting ceremony on the new bridge crossing the Natchez Trace Parkway, one of the spans crucial to making the new road fully functional.
Pirkle said work toward funding and completing the road began in 2003.
Initial work was followed by successful negotiations for right-of-way from multiple landowners through fields still under cultivation, crossing creeks and avoiding residential disruption.
A new traffic signal is installed at Mount Vernon and the new road has a sign naming it West Barnes Crossing Road.
Pirkle told about 100 people who stood on the bridge or sat in metal folding chairs that it was difficult deciding precisely how to get a direct connection to U.S. 78, which will become Interstate 22, possibly in a few months, depending on other connections.
U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss. said the U.S. Congress was able to provide a “little help” in one appropriations bill with discretionary funds.
Wicker said he was happy to help with a project that will encourage jobs and new opportunities in Northeast Mississippi.
Mayor Jason Shelton applauded what he termed a “team effort” involving many players in volunteer and government agency positions.
The $7.5 million bridge was the final piece of work on the east end of the new road. The western end of West Barnes Crossing is scheduled to open when a new bridge over U.S. 78 is completed in September.