Tupelo's northern loop: It's on

By Emily Le Coz/NEMS Daily Journal

TUPELO – Work will resume this summer on the city’s northern loop, a multimillion-dollar road project that has sat idle for two years amid red tape.
The six-phase plan will connect west Tupelo to the bustling Barnes Crossing shopping district with a new, 4.5-mile road. But its path crosses wetlands, tribal land and state and federal jurisdictions – factors that imposed numerous hurdles causing years of delay.
Much of that now appears over.
Contractors this month have been invited to bid on three portions of the $22 million project. The bids will be opened Aug. 4, and work should begin about one month later. The entire project should be completed within two years.
News of the bid process Monday prompted applause among members of the city’s Major Thoroughfare Committee, who have long awaited action on the repeatedly delayed road.
The group oversees the project, along with several others included in the current five-year thoroughfare program.
Taxpayers fund the program, now in its fourth phase, through a self-imposed 10-mil property tax levy. They vote on the program every five years. The next vote will come in 2011.
“This is great news,” said committee Chairman Greg Pirkle after the announcement. “It’s been a long time coming.”
The three projects out for bid involve building new, five-lane road sections. One section will extend Barnes Crossing Road west to the Natchez Trace Parkway and cost an estimated $2 million.
Another extends the road even farther west, from the parkway to Mount Vernon Road, for $4.2 million. The third will extend the road, west again, from Mount Vernon to U.S. Highway 78 at a cost of $6 million.
The three phases will begin simultaneously. It will take one year to complete the first project and another four months each on the other two, said John White of Engineering Solutions Inc. ESI does the engineering for the northern loop.
Of the remaining three projects, one is complete: Work on the first part of the road – extending Coley Road from McCullough north to U.S. 78 – began in October 2007 and finished in mid-2008. It cost $1.4 million.
The other two require building bridges: one over the Natchez Trace Parkway, and one over U.S. 78.
The Mississippi Department of Transportation is overseeing and paying for the U.S. 78 bridge, which is estimated to cost $5.6 million. And the U.S. Department of the Interior has been involved in the Trace bridge, which will cost about $2.8 million.
Preliminary plans for bridges have cleared their numerous regulatory hurdles and are within six months to one year from a construction start, White said. Each will take about one year to build.
Wetland mitigation also is nearly finished, with the city set to purchase a roughly $300,000 mitigation site through Wildlife Mississippi. It will offset the numerous wetland areas scattered across the new road’s path.
The entire loop could be complete by mid- to late 2012.
“That’s been a lot of years in the making,” said Mayor Jack Reed Jr., sharing the news with City Council members Tuesday. “We’re finally going forward.”
In addition to the northern loop, the committee also is building a $2.3 million bridge over Eason Boulevard where it crosses Town Creek. The two-lane span will sit alongside an existing two-lane bridge, easing congestion on the busy stretch.
It also has plans to widen portions of South Gloster and East Main streets by the time the current phase ends. Both those projects are in various planning stages, with South Gloster slated to start first.
Contact Emily Le Coz at (662) 678-1588 or emily.lecoz@djournal.com.