Tupelo rail study ends

By Emily Le Coz/NEMS Daily Journal

TUPELO – State officials will present the results of Tupelo’s $2.2 million railroad relocation study next week, marking the final step in a process launched six years ago.
Not unexpectedly, the study recommends elevating the Burlington Northern Santa Fe railroad track above the city to alleviate mounting traffic congestion. But it provides no hint of how to raise the $400 million needed for the project.
It’s unclear whether the city will pursue funding for the project. Mayor Jack Reed Jr. and several City Council members said during a retreat two years ago that they disliked the idea of elevated rails through the city.
Reed declined to comment Friday, saying he’ll wait until after the public hearing to offer remarks.
The hearing will be held from 4-7 p.m. Thursday at the BancorpSouth Arena, where engineers and consultants will explain the study, answer questions and take comments. The study was headed by the Mississippi Department of Transportation.
Copies of the report – a voluminous document detailing every step of the process – already is available for public viewing at the Lee County Library, Lee County Chancery Clerk’s Office, the Tupelo Mayor’s office, and the Mississippi Department of Transportation district office on North Gloster Street.
It’s also available online at gomdot.com
As part of the proposed raised-rails plan, Burlington Northern Santa Fe’s tracks would rest on an 18-foot bridge so they’d no longer intersect vehicular traffic. The bridge would extend from southwest Tupelo where the track crosses Veterans Boulevard, intersecting Crosstown, and ending near Lumpkin Avenue in the northwest.
Tupelo resident and longtime study critic Jim High said he’s dissatisfied with the results, which he had viewed at the library.
“I don’t think it was worth the money spent,” High said. “I think the five-inch thick report shows where they spent the money, but you can get the gist of what they’re proposing in three pages. It’s kind of typical of government these days.”
The study was funded with federal dollars.
High said he prefers his own alternative, which would reroute the tracks along U.S. Highway 45 and U.S. 78 and cost roughly $500 million.
Responded Rhea Vincent, MDOT location engineer: “The one that’s being proposed is the most feasible one. Everything else we studied was fairly expensive.”
Building the elevated tracks would save Tupelo an estimated $1.2 billion in lost productivity from traffic congestion over the next two decades, Vincent added.
After the hearing, MDOT will submit its final report to the Federal Railroad Administration. At that point, the study will end.
“The final report could change based on comments,” said Sedrick Durr, public involvement coordinator for MDOT’s environmental division. “In all, it takes about 45 days.”

The Hearing
– 4-7 p.m. Thursday, BancorpSouth Arena

– You may send comments about Tupelo’s railroad relocation study via email to environmental_comments@mdot.state.ms.us.

$2.2 million – Cost of study recommending raising railroad tracks through Tupelo.

$400 million – Estimated cost of the project.

Click video to hear audio