By Michaela Gibson Morris/NEMS Daily Journal
TUPELO – Tupelo’s Major Thoroughfare Program projects are moving along.
Work on South Gloster Street should finish this spring. The East Main Street widening project is on schedule and slated to finish late summer.
The Northern Loop, which will connect west Tupelo and the Barnes Crossing retail district, is down to two bridges. Thoroughfare committee chairman Greg Pirkle said he hopes that project will finish before the end of 2014.
“If all the projects are completed, we’ll only have one more congested Christmas,” Pirkle said.
Tupelo taxpayers provide the engine for the large-scale roadwork with a 10-mill property tax that generates about $4 million annually. The program comes back to Tupelo voters every five years for renewal.
To allow work to move forward on the long-anticipated projects, the city has temporarily committed $3 million in reserves to cover any gaps between construction expenses and revenue collection.
All three projects are leveraging partnerships with the Mississippi Department of Transportation. MDOT will handle the bridge over U.S. Highway 78 on the Northern Loop. The South Gloster project ties into the new U.S. Highway 6. The East Main Street project ties in with MDOT-overseen work in downtown Main Street.
After six years and miles of multi-agency red tape, it’s down to the bridges for Tupelo’s Northern Loop – the first new road built under the Major Thoroughfare Program.
“The road beds that connect the bridges are complete,” Pirkle said.
The project’s four road bed phases are complete and work is ramping up on one of the two bridges required to complete the project.
Work is beginning on the bridge that will span the Natchez Trace. Crews are currently clearing the land and moving equipment into place.
“It’s a 16-month project,” said engineer John White of ESI.
Traffic should be able to continue to flow along the Natchez Trace during the construction, Pirkle said.
MDOT is building the bridge over Highway 78.
Pirkle hopes to have the final real estate issues – which are Tupelo’s responsibility – connected with the bridge over Highway 78 settled within a week.
Once that happens, MDOT – which is overseeing and funding the 78 bridge – is set to proceed with the bidding process.
ESI designed the Highway 78 bridge as well, and White anticipates it will be a 16- to 18-month project.
That should mean that by Christmas 2014, shoppers will have another route to the Barnes Crossing shopping district.
“It should be doable,” White said.
The widening of South Gloster Street from Garfield Street to the new Mississippi Highway 6 missed its Dec. 31 deadline for completion, but the end is in sight.
The $6.5 million project will add a center turn lane, making the road five lanes wide.
Cook-Coggin engineer Carrson Neal anticipates the work should be complete later this spring.
“There will be some time extension granted due to delays caused by conflicts with other utilities, but the exact amount is not yet known, as that must be approved by MDOT sometime prior to work being completed,” he said.
Construction crews are on target so far for the East Main Street widening project. Work began last fall and is slated for completion in early August.
The $3 million project will create five lanes between Veterans Boulevard and Willow Road and three lanes of traffic between Willow and Hillsdale Drive.
“It’s going very well,” Pirkle said.
The project has been long anticipated. Widening East Main was named a priority for the second five-year phase of the Major Thoroughfare Program, but had to wait until the fifth phase to move off the drawing board.
The final paving will be the last phase of the project.
The remaining priorities identified as possibilities for this phase of the Major Thoroughfare include tying Thomas Street into the new Highway 6, expanding Veterans Boulevard, adding right hand turn lanes to North Gloster Street around the mall and expanding West Jackson Extended around the Tupelo Regional Airport.
What project is chosen next depends on construction costs and the revenue available, Pirkle said. Historically, the committee hasn’t started any new projects unless they have the funds to complete them.
“We have plenty of money to finish all the projects underway,” Pirkle said.
Later this month, Pirkle anticipates the Major Thoroughfare Program will send a formal recommendation for a study to identify the priorities for the next round of Major Thoroughfare Project, which will come up for a vote in 2016.