The Tupelo City Council has agreed to use money from the general fund to pay for almost $500,000 worth of traffic signal improvements on Main Street.
That decision follows low-key resistance offered in recent months by the Major Thoroughfare Program's leadership at the thought of picking up the tab for traffic light upgrades.
The City Council met during a work session Tuesday afternoon to discuss the matter. No vote was taken, but the clear consensus of the discussion was that Mayor Jason Shelton's administration will include funding for the traffic signal improvements when a final budget comes before the council in September.
This decision ends recent uncertainty over the future of the traffic signal project.
The Major Thoroughfare Program commissioned a consulting firm late last year to study traffic signals and traffic patterns on Main Street and part of Eason Boulevard.
That firm, Neel-Schaffer, analyzed traffic density and patterns on a significant stretch of Main Street and parts of Eason Boulevard. Neel-Schaffer then produced a number of coordinated signal patterns for different times of day, all intended to move traffic along Main Street and Eason Boulevard more quickly and efficiently.
However, implementing these timing patterns will require infrastructure upgrades of approximately $491,000. Major Thoroughfare leaders, including committee chairman Greg Pirkle, have maintained that they were not adequately informed from the beginning of the project's true costs.
The program's leadership apparently believed that no money beyond the consultant's fees would be required to implement improvements.
However, a number of upgrades are required to synchronize the traffic lights and maintain the integrity of the timing patterns. These upgrades include radios and an expanded fiber optic network.
“When you put in timing, it's really important that all the controllers stay in sync,” said W.L. Sanders, who helps maintain traffic lights for Tupelo Water & Light.
The City Council's decision to fund the remainder of the traffic light implementation without Major Thoroughfare money ensures the project will proceed but skirts the issue of how such a misunderstanding arose in the first place.
Ward 7 Councilman Willie Jennings lingered over this misunderstanding.
“I think we dropped the ball somewhere on who should pay for this,” Jennings said.
Ward 1 Councilman Markel Whittington also indicated concerns about the apparent communication breakdown between the administration and the Major Thoroughfare Program, but no council members indicated any reservation at taking on the project costs.
Whittington and Ward 6 Councilman Mike Bryan were particularly insistent that Major Thoroughfare bore no responsibility to shoulder any further costs.
Chief Operations Officer Don Lewis told the Daily Journal there are not yet any firm details about how the city will fund the $491,000 traffic light project.
Lewis indicated that unspent funds from the current fiscal year's capital allotments may be sufficient to fund much of the traffic light work throughout the next year.