OUR OPINION: Trace trail closure points to Northern Loop progress

By NEMS Daily Journal

Major government funded construction projects always involve almost too many details to count, but every project has a key detail, sometimes seemingly small, that signals real progress is about to happen toward conclusion.
Last week, the Natchez Trace Parkway’s decision makers announced the closure of the National Scenic Trail section north of Old Town Creek to the Beech Springs Road access point for two years to avoid hazards that will come with building a bridge on the Northern Loop over the Trace. The hiking trail will be open north of the Beech Springs access and south of Old Town Creek.
The thoroughfare loop – officially Barnes Crossing Road extended – will link U.S. 78 near Belden to the Barnes Crossing commercial area on North Gloster, one of Tupelo’s major business/commercial thoroughfares.
The loop is designed to route traffic east-west and take some pressure off North Gloster, McCullough Boulevard, U.S. 78 and U.S. 45, which feed traffic to Barnes Crossing in existing flow patterns. In addition, Barnes Crossing Extended, in phases, will be zoned for appropriate development, recognizing that adjoining land sits largely in a flood plain.
Barnes Crossing Extended is the first new street built under the Major Thoroughfare Program, which is funded in five-year increments using a voter-approved 10 mill Tupelo property owner tax levy. The northern loop has been under active planning for about a decade, but the basic visioning for loop roads encircling Tupelo and expediting both traffic flow and development has been discussed for at least 30 years.
The two-year trail closure fits the general schedule recently outlined by MTP Committee Chairman Greg Pirkle. He has cast the completion of bridges over the Trace and one partially financed by the Mississippi Department of Transportation over U.S. 78 in late 2014, which would allow time for any work related to re-opening the scenic hiking trail when the bridge is completed.
Both trail sections soon will be posted closed by public notice.
At the same time, work is progressing on two other MTP projects:
• East Main Street widening and improvement is 39 percent complete, with a late summer 2013 wrap-up forecast.
• South Gloster widening is 73 percent complete, and wrap-up is expected this spring.
The MTP committee has started discussions about the next phase of the program, which would be voted on in 2016. Several venues are under consideration, but no decisions or designs have been finalized.
The program is among the best community actions undertaken by Tupelo.