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Road projects a big area need

With the continued enrollment growth on the University of Mississippi campus, the infrastructure of Oxford is presently strained to the limit. From roads to sewer and water, how much more can our city handle?

On-campus enrollment at Ole Miss is more than 19,000 students. Freshman enrollment is presently 3,969, which represents a growth of 4.2 percent. Approximately two-thirds of the students on campus are from the state of Mississippi.

With Institutions of Higher Learning funding being cut more and more in federal and state budgets, an increase in tuition and students are the only ways to make up for budget woes.

Ole Miss is one of the few campuses in the state that continues to show an increase in enrollment adding to major traffic issues.

According to Bart Robinson, city engineer and Public Works director for the city of Oxford, there are around 23,000 vehicles that travel West Jackson Avenue on a daily basis. This study was done by a count of vehicles in 2014 by the Mississippi Department of Transportation so we all know that number is probably low. To put this number into perspective, Highway 6 East coming into Oxford handles 29,000 vehicles per day while Highway 6 between Jackson Avenue and Chucky Mullins Drive handles 35,000 vehicles per day. Interstate 55 just north of Batesville is currently handling 21,000 vehicles per day.

Both the city and county have approved a Regional Economic Development Agreement that will let them spend up to $14 million, split 50-50 between both boards. This money will help fund the West Oxford Loop project and also the road that will eventually connect Sisk Avenue near the conference center to Highway 6 East.

Other road projects include:

— Highway 7 South four-lane project to the highway 7/9 split. Various utility companies are working on utility relocations for the portion of the road around the new FNC site. The city is working on estimates for the remainder of the utility relocations from NMRC south. There’s still no timetable for actual construction.

— One of the long-anticipated projects is the West Oxford Loop connection that will tie in to College Hill Road (Highway 314) near FNC Park. According to Robinson, “We encountered environmental issues that related to the Long Eared Bat. After working through the issue with our consultant and United States Fish and Wildlife Service, we are back to work. Elliott and Britt are preparing Right of Way information for appraisers. The next step is Field Review by the Office of State Aid. Once the Field Review is complete which should occur in the next couple of weeks, we expect to get environmental clearance, which will allow us to start acquiring Right-of-Way. If we receive cooperation from landowners, I believe we will advertise and open bids for the project in August/September.”

— The road connecting Sisk Avenue to Highway 6 East. Elliott and Britt Engineering are working on the design of the road. According to Robinson, “We are working through access issues as they relate to Highway 6, and still hopeful right-of-way acquisition can occur soon. If we receive cooperation from landowners, I believe we will advertise and open bids for the project in August/September.”

Many thanks to our city and county leaders, as well as MDOT, for making these road projects become a reality for our community. There’s no doubt it’s a big need.

Tim Phillips is publisher of The Oxford EAGLE. Contact him at tim.phillips@oxfordeagle.com.