Tupelo Regional settles on 650 feet – for now

TUPELO – If the Tupelo Regional Airport gets approval for its 650-foot runway extension, drivers who use West Jackson Street Extended won’t have to be worried.
The airport would like to extend the runway by 1,000 feet – to 7,500 feet – but for now, officials are pushing for only a 650-foot lengthening to the north.
At Tuesday’s public hearing about the project, attendees were assured that with an extension of that distance, West Jackson Extended would remain open, even during construction of the runway project.
“There will be a 1,000-foot safety area around the runway that will come up to within 100 feet of the road,” said Charles Goforth, of engineering and architectural firm Barge, Waggoner, Sumner and Cannon.
West Jackson Extended, which runs north of the runway, had been a sticking point with some residents, businesses and city leaders who feared the east-west road would be affected by a runway extension.
A closing, even temporary, was not an acceptable option for them.
But now that a shorter extension is planned, the cut-through for travelers will be left alone.
However, for this convenience, the runway extension will cost a little more in the long run, if the airport follows through on plans to add the remaining 350 feet.
The 650-foot lengthening to the north end of the runway will cost an estimated $8,147,167, based on a study conducted by engineering firm Neel-Schaffer conducted earlier this year.
Based on a formula in which the Federal Aviation Administration will pay for 95 percent of the project, the FAA’s share comes to $7,739,808, with the Mississippi Department of Transportation and the city of Tupelo equally splitting the remaining $407,358.
Two years ago, the FAA had approved a 1,000-foot runway extension strictly to the north. But that would have meant temporarily closing or shifting West Jackson Extended.
The old plan backed by former airport Executive Director Terry Anderson and the Tupelo Airport Authority at the time also called for shifting and widening Colonial Estates Road to McCullough Boulevard. A traffic signal also would have been added at the intersection.
In that old plan, there were two options for West Jackson Street Extended: to build a tunnel for it in order to keep it in place, or to shift it farther north of its current position.
That plan would have cost less than $10 million for the full 1,000-foot extension the north.
Today, airport officials are looking strictly at the 650-foot extension to the north, even though they have said they would like to add the other 350 feet down the road.
That extension to the south could be problematic and expensive. Equipment would have to be relocated, and at least one building – a fire station – would have to be moved. Another privately owned building – a BancorpSouth branch – might have be moved as well. But there’s no guarantee that the bank would even agree to move from such a prime location.
To accommodate the wishes to keep West Jackson Extended open, the Neel-Schaffer study estimated that a full 1,000-foot runway extension – 650 to the north, 350 to the south – would cost more than $12.5 million.
That was a price the FAA wasn’t willing to fund, especially since it was 25 percent more than the plan that was abandoned.
And the FAA didn’t think there was enough justification to pay for the entire extension, said Allen Thames, senior aviation planner for Neel-Schaffer.
So, Tupelo Regional may get its 650-foot extension, but the 350-foot extension to the south could be a stumbling block too big to overcome.
That leaves one choice – looking at extending to the north once again, which also means figuring out what to do with West Jackson Extended.
Contact Dennis Seid at (662) 678-1578 or dennis.seid@djournal.com.

DENNIS SEID / NEMS Daily Journal