OUR OPINION: Saltillo looks to STEP ahead with road plan

By NEMS Daily Journal

Saltillo’s proposed STEP program for road and street enhancement offers the growing north Lee County city an affordable method for improving streets built for a lighter traffic load during a time when the municipality was a fraction of its 2012 population, pushing toward 5,000.
The Saltillo Transportation Enhancement Program goes before voters Aug. 14. The proposal is an eight-mill tax increase for five years, calculated by STEP advisory committee chair Shane Hooper at approximately $111.14 on a $139,000 home – about $9.26 per month.
The millage would not affect the tax rates for public schools and general county ad valorem taxes.
The Board of Aldermen identified the top three priorities earlier.
Traffic congestion/safety issues have developed especially on Mississippi Highway 145 near new commercial properties and on the stretch of roadway where campuses for Saltillo Elementary and Saltillo High School are accessed.
The full list of priorities addresses issues in the downtown area and areas closer to the highways serving the city:
• Priority 1 would deal with congestion at the intersection of Cartwright and Mobile Streets near downtown Saltillo.
• Priority 2 would address issues on Mississippi 145 from McDonald’s to the campus of Saltillo United Methodist Church. That priority will link to plans for anticipated school construction.
• Priority 3 would examine congestion along Highway 145 from Mobile Street to Hill Street, also related to school traffic. The improvement between Hill and Mobile streets was listed as the top priority by the STEP committee.
A committee of 12 citizens assessed a wide range of suggestions, and made the recommendations to the Board of Aldermen.
The committee’s work included examining accident reports and traffic counts, and in-person observations.
“The thing that made (personal evaluations) so important was the committee member diversity,” Hooper said earlier. “It allowed us to look at Saltillo in its entirety.”
Hooper said previously that the committee met with Fire Chief Mark Nowell to look at the roads from a first-responder standpoint and Lee County School District Superintendent Jimmy Weeks to talk about future school traffic. County Supervisor Bobby Smith was consulted so the committee didn’t infringe on projects the county was already considering.
Saltillo’s method, Mayor Bill Williams and others have said, is modeled on Tupelo’s long-successful Major Thoroughfare Program, which is a voter-approved 10-mill tax in five-year phases. Voter approval has been expressed with increasingly wide margins over five phases of work.
Every energetic and aggressive town or city has growing pains, the issues confronting Saltillo. The STEP program is a sound, systematic approach to dealing with and anticipating growth.

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