Tupelo wins innovations award for road program

CATEGORY: Tupelo Stories

AUTHOR: MOULDE

Tupelo wins innovations award for road program

By Philip Moulden

Daily Journal

Tupelo’s 4-year-old Major Thoroughfare Program has earned it one of the first “Innovations in Mississippi Government” awards, an honor program designed to recognize grass-roots solutions to local problems.

The award was devised by the John C. Stennis Institute of Government at Mississippi State University in cooperation with the Mississippi Municipal Association. To be given annually, the first awards were recently presented to five cities at the MMA midwinter conference in Jackson.

“We were just pleased to be there (among the winners),” Mayor Jack Marshall said. “We were very pleased to be picked by the Stennis Institute for this program. We firmly believe it is a very innovative type approach to making much-needed road improvements.”

The Mississippi innovation awards are patterned on a Ford Foundation/Kennedy School of Government innovation award program at Harvard University, which focuses on all levels of government, said Don Slabach, Stennis Institute spokesman. The state awards are aimed at local programs.

“There are so many changes in (federal and state) government right now, it looks like local governments are going to have to pick up the pieces,” Slabach said. “We were looking for a way to reward local governments (that) are finding ways to make improvements using grass-roots programs.

“In Tupelo, it looked like everybody knew the need … and got it up and going.”

The Major Thoroughfare Program was begun in August 1991 after officials saw traffic problems become increasingly worse as the city became a magnet for workers, shoppers and visitors in the region.

Although the city’s population in 1990 was only 30,685, it estimated it hosted more than 100,000 people a day, either for work, school, medical care or the many services available. Meanwhile, thoroughfare improvements had been “put off” in past years because of the high costs, the city award application noted.

“Major intersections were clogged. Travel delays were very common. Drivers were getting a taste of ‘big city’ traffic congestion,” it said.

City officials recruited representatives from each city ward to serve on the Public Road Improvement Development Encouraged (PRIDE) Committee to provide both personal knowledge of traffic problems and credibility to the program.

The committee recommended a five-year, 10-mill tax increase to raise $10 million and City Council approved the sale of $4 million in bonds to “jump start” the work. With PRIDE members carrying the banner, city voters approved the program and additional taxes.

The mayor and council then appointed a Lobbying and Oversight Committee that raised another $2,675,000 in state and federal funding.

Thoroughfare projects included the widening of Gloster Street, the addition of turn lanes and signals at many intersections, and the current work on Crosstown improvements.

In all, 25 projects have been completed at a cost of about $9 million. The remaining projects should be completed by the end of the year.

“We do feel like we are giving the taxpayers a good dollar-for-dollar return on their money,” Marshall said. “I think it is real important that this has been a pay-as-you-go program.”

And city officials are looking ahead to the next step.

“I think what we’re counting on is the success of Phase One to be the prelude for Phase Two. We’re developing project plans for Phase Two, but of course we’ll have to go back to the citizens (for a vote) on that,” Marshall said.

This year’s other award winners were Meridian for a municipal court fine collection program; Vicksburg for a juvenile alternatives program; Jackson for a juvenile fire starter intervention program; and Holly Springs, for a housing development program.

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