By Emily Le Coz and Carlie Kollath/NEMS Daily Journal
TUPELO – The verdict is in: Downtown Main Street will keep its three lanes.
The City Council on Tuesday moved forward with permanently adopting a three-lane traffic configuration for Main Street in downtown Tupelo.
Council members voted 5-2 to sign a contract with ESI for design engineering services on the project. They also voted 5-2 to approve an agreement with the state Department of Transportation that supports the project.
“Many times when we do things new it’s hard to adjust to them,” said Ward 4 Councilwoman Nettie Davis during the vote. “There may be a little changing and tweaking as they say to make things fit Tupelo, but I just think it’s going to make our city even greater.”
Opposing both measures were Ward 1 Councilman Markel Whittington and Ward 3 Councilman Jim Newell.
“I’m concerned about the disruption of north and south traffic, and I don’t think the plan does enough to offset that disruption,” Whittington said after the vote.
Although the elimination of one eastbound and one westbound lane didn’t impede traffic flow along Main Street, according to study results, it did cause traffic to back up along the north-south streets feeding into Main.
Both Whittington and Newell also cited the project’s nearly $2.9 million cost as a concern, despite MDOT’s agreement to pay 80 percent of it. Newell said Tupelo already has dipped into its rainy day funds too much.
“Until we get our city budget under control,” Newell said, “all spending on nonessential services should stop.”
Construction on the roadway is expected to start in about a year. In addition, the City Council and MDOT still must approve the final design.
Tuesday’s vote came after a 12-week test that converted Main Street from Green to Elizabeth streets from two lanes in each direction to one lane in each direction, with a center turn lane, on-street parking and partial bike lanes.
A traffic consultant, hired by the Downtown Tupelo Main Street Association, recommended the traffic pattern. RPM Transportation Consultants’ research found that the three-lane configuration reduced the number of stops and sped up travel times in the studied area.
The traffic consultant, during his presentation last week to the City Council, cited the newly synchronized traffic signals as a cause for the reduced number of stops.
The project is largely funded by state and federal sources. The City Council last year voted to commit the required 20 percent match, up to $575,000.
The project’s goals, as expressed by the Downtown Tupelo Main Street Association, are to make downtown safer and more inviting for pedestrians, cyclists, shoppers, diners and tourists.
The entire project encompasses Main Street from Green Street to Veteran’s Boulevard and then Reese Street to the Elvis Presley Birthplace. The project includes bricked crosswalks, decorative street lighting, extensive landscaping and a bike trail from downtown to the Elvis Presley Birthplace.
Jon Milstead of the Community Development Foundation said the project must have bike lanes in order to get the funding from MDOT.
The city must now decide what to do with the roadway until a final design is approved. The three lanes were striped with temporary tape. Milstead said the tape is performing well, but it won’t work on a permanent basis.
Contact Emily Le Coz at (662) 678-1588 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Contact Carlie Kollath at (662) 678-1598 or email@example.com.
• The Downtown Tupelo Main Street Association presented the following estimated project cost to the City Council in August 2010:
Total cost of project $2,865,402.22
City of Tupelo 20 percent match: $573,080.44
MDOT’s commitment: $2,292,321.77
The City Council voted to commit the 20 percent match, up to $575,000. At the time, members said it was their understanding that some of the money could be defrayed by in-kind services, where the city is able to do the work instead of actually spending the money.
• A hired transportation consultant studied traffic downtown before and during the three-lane test. RPM Transportation Consultants found that the overall travel time is reduced for motorists traveling eastbound and westbound.
On average, it took motorists between 2 minutes and 3.5 minutes to get from Green Street to Elizabeth Street during the three-lane test.
The percentages for travel times after the change to a three-lane Main Street:
• 3.2 percent – reduction in time it took to drive eastbound during morning rush hour
• 23.3 percent – reduction in time it took to drive westbound during morning rush hour
• 21.9 percent – reduction in time it took to drive eastbound at lunch
• 22 percent – reduction in time it took to drive westbound at lunch
• 1.1 percent – reduction in time it took to drive eastbound at afternoon rush hour
• 2.4 percent – reduction in time it took to drive westbound at afternoon rush hour
Source: RPM Transportation Consultants based on August 2010 versus April 2011.