OUR OPINION: Important, traffic-changing bridges nearing completion

Two important bridges to somewhere (unlike the infamous bridge to nowhere funded by Congress in Alaska) are scheduled to open soon on Tupelo’s “northern loop” road, the most ambitious project undertaken in the voter-approved Major Thoroughfare Program.

The bridges, one crossing U.S. 78 near Belden where Coley Road dead-ends, and another crossing the Natchez Trace Parkway in the Town Creek Bottom north of the Trace-U.S. 78 interchange, are the final links in the four-lane artery connecting to Barnes Crossing Road at North Gloster Street.

A street sign at the newly signaled intersection with Mount Vernon Road bears the name West Barnes Crossing Road.

Mississippi Department of Transportation and Tupelo city officials have said they expect the $7.4 million bridge across the Natchez Trace to be completed in about a week. During the weekend, workers on the site appeared to be putting final touches on the construction, and much of the heavy equipment has been removed.

MDOT district construction engineer Jamie McDonald earlier said the West Barnes Crossing Road bridge work was delayed by rainy weather and that Key LLC of Madison, the main contractor, was granted an extension.

McDonald and Tupelo Chief Operations Officer Don Lewis have said the city plans to open the new road from North Gloster to Mount Vernon Road when the Trace bridge is completed.

A traffic control signal at the Mount Vernon/West Barnes Crossing intersection has been illuminated with a flashing caution signal, but full signalization has not started.

Last week, Century Construction, contractor for the new $10.5 million U.S. 78 bridge celebrated progress to date with an on-site meal for workers and guests. That bridge is expedited to open in September, within its contract terms. About 100 employees and subcontractors have been working 12-hour days every day of the week, Business Editor Dennis Seid reported Friday.

It has become obvious with construction nearing completion that the new thoroughfare has the potential to dramatically alter traffic patterns, including making access to the Barnes Crossing commercial area from unincorporated, fast-growing areas of northwest Lee County, easier and faster.

The new road creates an almost straight shot to Barnes Crossing Road and North Gloster from U.S. 78 eastbound and westbound, which should result in less pressure on North Gloster coming out of central and south Tupelo. The loop’s completion will be another major step in firmly identifying Tupelo as one of the most accessible cities in the South, intrastate and interstate.