Homeowners, business owners disagree on plans for new interchange
Highway 6-Jackson Avenue project still three years away

The Oxford Eagle By Lucy Schultze
April 23, 2003

Rachel Walker is hoping the highway department will fix Oxford's most dangerous intersection without putting an on ramp in her front yard.

Her two beloved magnolia trees look like gray dots on the aerial images overlaid with four possible designs for a new interchange at West Jackson Avenue and Highway 6. One of them uses part of her property for a right-of-way, and another would take it completely.

"We built that house and thought we'd be there till God took us home," she said. "I don't want to move, but I'd rather they take all or nothing."

In a growing part of town surrounded by residential and commercial development, engineers with the Mississippi Department of Transportation are trying to find the best way to expand what is now a simple stoplight into an interchange with a bridge, ramps and possibly loops.

Local residents reviewed the four potential plans and offered their comments Tuesday afternoon as MDOT representatives visited Oxford for a second time to gather feedback. The new designs on display were largely adapted from suggestions given at the first public meeting in August.

Though the timing and final design for the project are not yet set, one thing is for sure: no design is going to please everyone. Each option will affect homes and businesses in the area, either by changing the traffic flow around them, rerouting their access roads or gobbling them up altogether.

Business owners on West Jackson and West Oxford Loop feel strongly about leaving the intersection close to its present location.

Two options now being considered by MDOT accomplish this, with a bridge bringing West Jackson over the highway to meet the frontage road on the other side. A diamond-shaped configuration of ramps - or three ramps and a loop - lead traffic off the highway on to West Jackson near the same place it enters the road now.

"This would keep us in the traffic flow," said Keith Black, whose realty office is on West Oxford Loop. "I think that's the least impact on anybody."

However, these options would require a new frontage road, rerouting access for several businesses on Highway 6 that now have direct access to the highway.

And, in contrast to the business owners, homeowners in Woodlawn and Goose Creek want to see less traffic when they turn onto West Oxford Loop headed toward town.

A third option for the interchange would please residents by moving the whole thing east, connecting the highway to West Jackson via Mall Drive. This would mean running a new road east of Wal-Mart beside the Ole Miss intramural fields to hit West Jackson beside Asia restaurant.

In this case, engineers would either close the current intersection altogether or allow right turns only.
The fourth option brings the interchange east to run directly through where Captain D's and the old Shoney's now stand, curving West Oxford Loop east to meet West Jackson. A loop would encircle the place where Fielder's Welding now stands.

Since so much commercial and residential property could be affected by the new interchange, real estate matters are tense in one of Oxford's fastest growing areas.

"It's going to make it hard to sell anything out there until this is settled," said realtor Jeffrey Hollis. "You've got all that frozen now."

Uncertainty over the highway department's plans has put a hold on the construction of a new branch for Mechanics Bank. President Eddie Ray expects the plans for the new building to be finished in about three weeks.

"We were hoping to get started by the first of July," he said. "This is a cause for concern to us and may delay our project quite a bit."

Danny Walker, assistant district engineer for MDOT in Batesville, said the highway department will use the comments it received Tuesday, along with its own engineering judgment, to narrow the choices down to two or three options.

The department will take six to nine months to perform an environmental study on each of those before holding a public hearing to discuss how homes and businesses will be affected.

Once the layout of the interchange has been selected, the department will take six months to a year to design it and another year or so to acquire the right-of-way and move utilities.

Construction is expected to begin in approximately three years, Walker said.

- Lucy Schultze can be reached at lucyschultze@oxfordeagle.com

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