Tending toward deep purple, the North Hills Street blues

By Staff
Dec. 27, 2000
Color me skeptical regarding the responses of the City of Meridian and the County of Lauderdale to the North Hills Street petitioners. Did I see an exercise in buck passing? An artful triple play. Lauderdale County to Meridian to the Mississippi Department of Transportation (MDOT).
The traffic situation on North Hills Street between Broadmoor and Highway 39 is a monument to myopic planning. The proposed solution seems the most immediate patch, but is probably another of those excessively expensive, too little, too late fixes.
I hope lengthening the turn lane will help. Paint me supportively dubious.
Looks good on paper
There is a nice map of Meridian on the newsroom wall. On that map, North Hills Street looks like a loop road reaching from Highway 19N west of Meridian crossing Highway 39N continuing east and morphing into Lindley Road linking to the Highway 45 Bypass. Looks good on paper.
But on the ground this passage is marked by a four lane speedway from 35th Avenue to Poplar Springs Drive. The approaches to this section of North Hills Street are too narrow with misaligned right-of-way including almost blind hills.
Try a "drive time" excursion from Marion to Highway 19N. Buckle up and check your fuel before departing.
Continuing commercial development along the four lane portion of this path and additional residential development along north-south streets and roads feeding into North Hills suggests traffic is going to get even more congested. Especially at the choke points like the Highway 39 intersection.
After the fact
This is neither rocket science nor crystal ball gazing. And each solution to these traffic problems will get smaller in impact and more expensive as time passes. After the fact traffic problem solving is a hallmark of our community. Each succeeding city administration seems to receive an inheritance of traffic problems.
The current 10th Avenue project is a good example of after-the-fact street development. The city engineers, planners and contractors have created "the best solution" within constraints of limited right of way and limited funds. And soon 10th Avenue will bring more traffic more rapidly to and from North Hills Street.
The board of supervisors projected great sympathy for the plight of the petitioning neighborhoods. One almost laughs at the "But after all this is a city street and not a county responsibility" response. I suspect all of the petitioners pay road taxes to Lauderdale County.
Then the city points the responsibility toward MDOT while Mayor Smith waxes about traffic congestion as a wonderful sign of progress. Certainly rising traffic counts are a clear signal of vitality. And too late public works projects are expensive monuments to after the fact planning.
Joint planning?
To their credit, the board of supervisors and the city do collaborate to jointly press for projects of the moment like the Bonita Lakes Mall access and the new industrial park access. And perhaps the North Hills turn lane project, albeit less ambitious, falls into that category.
But from my view, real "progress" would be the city and county planning together for future development of major traffic pathways. Then sharing our resources to develop those streets or roads. And jointly advocating our road and highway interests to MDOT.
Note I used the pronoun "our" which suggests most of us pay taxes to both the City of Meridian and the County of Lauderdale. If not directly as property tax, indirectly as sales tax.
One of my three readers may recall my railing about the "by-passing of the North By-Pass." Do I sense monumental disinterest of the City of Meridian and the County of Lauderdale in seeking that additional avenue of traffic relief ? I suspect too many other road deals need to be done with MDOT to use our meager political capital on a North By-Pass.
Beyond the North Hills Street dilemma, lies the gross incapacity of the local governments involved to collaborate on planning issues. Meridian over-regulates development. Lauderdale County neither plans nor regulates.
And each is forever trying to position the other to divide operating expenses on everything from animal control to E-911 services to some street paving and beyond.
And the good folks trapped off North Hills Street? The stage managed by-passing of responsibility of the board of supervisors and the city in tossing the ball to MDOT was another reminder to me of how shortsighted our planning has historically been.
At least a partial solution to the North Hills Street blues is in the works. And how long will these improvements take? Anything less than twenty-four months will be a remarkable accomplishment. An even more remarkable accomplishment would be our local governments planning together.
Bill Scaggs is president emeritus at Meridian Community College and a senior consulting editor for The Meridian Star. E-mail him at wscaggs@themeridianstar.com.