EDITORIAL: Growing pains

The Tupelo Airport Authority’s 4-1 vote last week to review and thus delay for a time its action to lengthen Tupelo Regional Airport’s runway from 6,500 feet to 7,500 or 8,000 feet could save the plan from an intracity political collision, but dropping the project, as some citizens support, is not a reasonable option.
The airport and West Jackson issues, in fact, are more complex than they might appear.
The authority’s delay vote came after public differences with the City Council surfaced about what should be done with West Jackson Street Extended, the heavily used route that crosses airport property to connect with Coley Road and neighborhoods west of that beltway corridor.
Public sentiment appears to run heavily against the authority’s proposal to reroute West Jackson northward to connect with McCullough Boulevard. West Tupelo residents say that option would cut them off from the most convenient route to downtown and some of the city’s schools.
Instead, many of West Jackson’s current-route supporters, some members of the City Council, and at least some on the airport authority want to seek a tunnel that would take West Jackson under the exclusion zone of an extended runway but not directly underneath the runway.
West Jackson’s existing route runs through the exclusion zone, too, but no effort has been made to close it or have it moved.
A street tunnel, while no longer a preferred choice for FAA, is possible because an exception to the rule can be sought with the help of the congressional delegation.
Sens. Roger Wicker and Thad Cochran and U.S. Rep. Travis Childers all have indicated they would support the city’s efforts in that direction.
The air service and runway issues are related, but they of course cannot be handled in the same package of negotiations and requests.
The proposed northward route for West Jackson is the least expensive option so far put forward, and it would be paid for mostly with federal funds.
A tunnel, while possible, would be more expensive, unless engineers bring forward some kind of design that changes the prevailing estimates.
We believe it’s entirely possible that the congressional delegation, working together could secure funding for a tunnel, but it probably would take longer, and with delays, costs would rise.

Other West Jackson issues
In addition, the authority and the City Council both need a firm answer about whether or not building a tunnel would require the temporary closing of West Jackson, and if so, where would that traffic would be detoured.
Beyond the issue of a tunnel and a lengthened runway is the growth projected for west Tupelo.
As the growth unfolds, how much more traffic volume can a two-lane West Jackson Street handle?
Major Thoroughfare Committee Chairman Greg Pirkle believes it is time to give serious consideration to adding the full length of West Jackson from Coley Road to Gloster Street to the Major Thoroughfare Program.
Nothing is ever as easy as first appears in a growing city. We support the lengthened runway, and we believe a solution can be found to West Jackson routing, but what about West Jackson’s traffic capacity? That issue should be considered in parallel with the others.

NEMS Daily Journal