STARKVILLE — Henry Vaughn has lived near Highway 182 all his life. As a child, he said, he and his friends would sit by the highway and count the cars that drove by.
By 2024, there will be a lot more than passing cars to count there if the city has its way.
“It’s going to look a lot different,” said Vaughn, who serves as Ward 7 alderman. “Hopefully, we’ll bring a lot more business to this side of town.”
The city unveiled preliminary design plans to revitalize the segment of the highway between Long Street and Old West Point Road at a pair of open house events Wednesday in the mayor’s conference room at City Hall. Starkville has secured a U.S. Department of Transportation grant to pay for 80 percent of the estimated $12.66 million project aiming to draw economic development and increase pedestrian access along the corridor.
Mayor Lynn Spruill said the project’s main goal is to convert a “blighted area” to a place that ties well with the city’s “downtown core.”
“All of that area is ripe for redevelopment,” Spruill said. “It has so much potential, and we want to realize that potential. … Now, people are just simply passing through there. We want them to stop and engage.”
Design plans, which City Engineer Edward Kemp said were roughly 65-percent complete, must obtain MDOT and federal approval by August.
From there, most above-ground infrastructure — mostly utilities and communications — will move underground.
Spruill said starting construction in 2022 could see it complete by 2024.
A rendering that stretched nearly the length of the conference room showed the proposed changes to the roughly mile stretch of 182, as members of the Kimley Horn team that designed it stood by to speak with any business owners or citizens who had questions as they filtered through.
The design adds landscaped medians with regular breaks between Long and North Jackson streets, as well as two more between North Montgomery and Old West Point Road, which will nullify the now wide open turning lane.
Decorative concrete will grace each intersection and a 12-foot walking/biking path will flank each side of the highway along the route and a designated urban green space near North Jackson Street.
The median in front of Henderson Ward Stewart Elementary will break into a short left turn lane at the traffic light to enter the campus, and a protected circle-drive for pickup and drop-off will be installed in front of the school.
Street side parking spots will run between School and North Jackson streets on both sides, according to the rendering.
Spruill said, beyond economic development, the city hopes to improve the area’s aesthetics, slow down traffic and emphasize pedestrian access.
“We’ve been trying to enhance our profile as a pedestrian-friendly and bike-friendly community,” Spruill said. “This project will provide a big piece of that.”
Clark Bailey, a designer with Kimley Horn, said better timing at traffic lights should keep traffic flow through the corridor roughly the same as it is now. But the design, he said, conveys the goal of revitalization.
“We’re creating a new life, a new identity for 182,” Bailey said.
Rick Welch arrived just before 4 p.m. to view the plans. For about 15 minutes before several more citizens arrived, he had Spruill all to himself and peppered her with questions.
Welch has owned Rick’s Cafe for 27 years and said he has “advocated for fixing this area” for that entire time. What he saw Wednesday both excited and concerned him.
His sign, for one, is in the Mississippi Department of Transportation right-of-way, which means he will have to move it. The plan also significantly changes ease of access to his business from the road.
“I’m going to lose a turn lane, which is not ideal, but I feel like my customers will get used to it over time,” Welch said. “I hope it does increase foot traffic, but we’ll have to wait and see.
“Overall, this project is going to make the corridor look a lot better,” he added.
Several people who viewed the design also saw the planned medians and immediately drew comparisons to a recently completed project on Highway 12, which eliminated the open turning lane with medians stretching from Mississippi State University east of town to the Walmart on the west edge of the city. There, in many cases, traffic must use turnarounds at intersections to access businesses on the opposite side of the street.
“I make no apologies for Highway 12,” Spruill told The Dispatch, noting the medians had dropped accident rates there by 30 percent.
She then addressed similarities the medians present with the planned 182 revitalization.
“I don’t see it as restricting access,” Spruill said. “I see it as a reorganization of access. There certainly won’t be wall-to-wall entry points.
“It will be a vast improvement from what’s out there now,” she added.