EDITORIAL: Traffic and money

Thursday’s public hearing on the specific details of the Tupelo Major Thoroughfare Program’s “northern loop” provided a timely forum for residents, motorists and the business community to see what’s planned and offer input on the longest and most expensive project undertaken by the voter-approved program.
Thanks in part to a recovering retail economy, traffic during the Christmas retail season brought thousands of vehicles filled with shoppers to what’s called the Barnes Crossing commercial area – the Mall at Barnes Crossing and scores of businesses along U.S. Highway 45 and North Gloster Street.
The outpouring of shoppers coming from across Northeast Mississippi, western Alabama and southern Tennessee made cash registers ring, and the traffic drove home the urgency of completing the northern loop – and making other traffic-flow improvements to alleviate congestion that at times became gridlock.
The loop will connect a new road across Town Creek bottom, with bridges at Mt. Vernon Road, the Natchez Trace, and U.S. Highway 78, with Barnes Crossing road on the northeastern end and Coley Road Extended on the southwest connection.
That roadway will allow new access going to and leaving the Barnes Crossing area without extensive travel on North Gloster, Tupelo’s main north-south thoroughfare, also known as Old Highway 45.
While the traffic congestion is obvious to anyone shopping in the Barnes Crossing area (in seasons besides Christmas, too), the implications are complex.
Unresolved congestion, extensive studies across the nation have shown, eventually becomes a detriment to business, no matter how many cars bring people to shop:
n People can choose venues with better traffic management, perhaps not as conveniently located, but less vexing.
n Unresolved congestion can drive shoppers to Internet sales, widely considered a negative for locally and regionally based retailers, and for city and state revenue in Mississippi.
n Long-term congestion discourages additional commercial investment, which reduces potential property tax revenue, employment growth, and eventual impacts on property values.
The magisterial financier David Rockefeller was the founding chairman of an organization, the Partnership for New York, whose studies showed how unresolved congestion could bring a whole region to a standstill.
The same lesson should be applied in Tupelo, the commercial, manufacturing, financial, medical, and retail center of Northeast Mississippi.
“Research and analysis conducted for (the New York report) have generated new evidence that traffic congestion can no longer be dismissed as an inconvenience. Nor is it solely a threat to public health and the environment. Traffic has become a significant drag on the city and regional economy, prompting the business community to take up the issue,” the New York report concluded.
The Partnership’s research found that New York’s traffic has “crossed the dividing line that separates economically efficient traffic flow from destructive, excess congestion.”
Many Tupelo business leaders and officials have drawn the same conclusions, and that’s what the thoroughfare program addresses.
This is not to criticize the Major Thoroughfare Committee and its volunteer civic membership and leadership, but to stress to the government entities involved that making a decision about bridges and securing full funding constantly grows more urgent.
It’s certainly correct that no amount of planning and expanded traffic access will prevent an occasional jam, but remembering the difference between well-designed four-lane highways in our region and the two-lane roads they replaced suggests the qualitative and quantitative difference that can be expected.

NEMS Daily Journal