OUR OPINION: New U.S. 78 bridge will help traffic grid

Tupelo’s Major Thoroughfare Program received a major shot in the arm last week with a “notice to proceed” issued by the Mississippi Department of Transportation for construction of a $105 million bridge and “diamond’ interchange over U.S. 78 at Coley Road bear Belden.

The bridge, scheduled for completion in November or earlier, is the final anticipated link in Coley Road Extended – the “Northern Loop” connecting U.S. 78/Interstate 22 with the Barnes Crossing commercial district at Barnes Crossing Road and North Gloster Street.

The contract awarded to Century Construction Co., Tupelo, was opened in November 2013 and finally awarded in January but was held until the notice to proceed was issued.

Tupelo District construction engineer Jamie McDonald said test drillings could begin on the site, about one mile from the Belden interchange, on March 14.

The new MTP link is designed to alleviate heavy traffic pressure on North Gloster/Miss. 145 and U.S. 45 near the Mall at Barnes Crossing. It also involves the longest stretch of new road yet built under the thoroughfare program. It crosses the Town Creek bottom land, now largely agricultural and pasture, makes an intersection at Mount Vernon Road, and links to North Gloster/Barnes Crossing.

Another bridge, crossing the Natchez Trace Parkway near Town Creek, will not have access from the parkway. That project is nearing completion.

McDonald said the 200-day schedule for completion in the contract would have the new Coley Road/U.S. 78 bridge open in November. The interchange, in the shape of a diamond, will have access from both directions off U.S. 78. Coley Road as it’s configured now terminates on the downhill slope above the four-lane highway.

McDonald said the fast-paced construction schedule is partly driven by disincentives for slower completion, but it also is a goal to finish and open the new road before holiday shopping traffic in the Barnes Crossing area increases dramatically in late fall.

That holiday traffic volume will be the first test of the road’s capacity and the willingness of motorists to use it.

The Major Thoroughfare Program, self-funded except when state or federal program funds are available, remains one of Tupelo’s most progressive quality-of-life/economic development commitments in the past 100 years.