OUR OPINION: City Council's vote affirms MTP process

By NEMS Daily Journal

The Tupelo City Council’s approval of the Major Thoroughfare Committee’s recommendation of Engineering Solutions, Inc., as the contractor for Phase 5 of the citywide street construction plan affirms a restoration of confidence in the committee and the planning process.
The council’s unanimous vote followed a strong recommendation from the committee for ESI.
Five years ago the council refused to follow the engineer selection subcommittee’s and full committee’s recommendation because some members wanted Cook Coggin Engineers to get the contract.
A compromise broke the standoff, and the two firms shared work in Phase 4.
Part of Phase 4 on South Gloster Street continues, with Cook-Coggin as the engineering firm, because money ran short and the project was extended into Phase 5.
The genius of the MTP is its citizen-driven leadership:
• A 10-mill general tax levy approved by a referendum before each phase funds the program; Tupelo’s general levy is less than 33 mills;
• A committee of non-politician Tupelo residents representing diverse working backgrounds and strong civic commitment moves the program forward; and
• A systematic evaluation and scoring of bidders for design contracts is followed by recommendations based on the scores.
Phase 5 is comprised of widening South Gloster and East Main streets, adding right turn lanes on North Gloster in congested areas in the Barnes Crossing commercial district, widening Eason Boulevard from Briar Ridge Road to Veterans Boulevard, and widening work on part of South Thomas Street.
East Main Street, which is also Highway 6 until the relocated Highway 6 is opened, will be widened to five lanes from U.S. Highway 45, in downtown Tupelo to Willow Road.
Work on South Gloster extends from Garfield Street to the Verona city limits.
Work continues on the new street called the “Northern Loop” connecting Coley Road Extended with Barnes Crossing Road.
Some critics of the program say taxpayers are getting soaked by the 10-mill levy, even though voters approved.
The last referendum, May 3, was approved 82 percent to 18 percent, one of the largest margins since the program started in 1991.
The explicit guarantee at the heart of the MTP is a contract with residents.
Thoroughfare funds won’t be spent for anything other than major road improvements, based on the plan recommended by the volunteer MTP committee and approved by the City Council.
The whole community and region have benefited from the MTP through the years, and the absence of conflict between the committee and council in the selection of engineers this time is a welcome affirmation of how the program should work.