Business owners weigh in on 22nd Ave. plans

Erin Kelly / The Meridian Star

Mike Van Zandt, senior project manager with the city of Meridian and Elizabeth Wilson, Mississippi Children's Museum-Meridian Executive Director, discuss conceptual plans for the enhancement of a section of 22nd Avenue. 

Business owners shared concerns and feedback Monday night about conceptual plans for a project to enhance a section of 22nd Avenue in Meridian. 

More than two dozen people, including city leaders, met at Union Station to review images provided by engineering firm, Neel-Schaffer, Inc. 

The project, which begins near the old Village Fair Mall and ends at Front Street, covers less than a mile of road also known as Sela Ward Parkway.

“I don’t see how this is going to beautify,” said Allison Slayton, owner of The Sewing and Vacuum Center. “It’s just going to cause traffic problems to me.”

Slayton said she was concerned customers would not be able to pull into her parking lot from the southbound lanes if a median was constructed.  

Under the plan reviewed Monday night, northbound traffic heading toward Front Street would remain on two lanes, but southbound traffic leaving downtown would be reduced to one lane for a couple city blocks, including on the 22nd Avenue bridge.

An earlier conceptual plan reduced southbound traffic for the entirety of the project. 

“We did hear some concerns about southbound traffic and so we did, since that meeting, we had reprioritized the lane structure so that as you move south and traffic generators start to appear and traffic counts grow, so do the lane priorities,” said Saunders Ramsey, the project manager and senior engineer with Neel-Schaffer, Inc. 

He said the lane reduction would be necessary to allow for pedestrian sidewalks and landscaping for beautification.

22nd Avenue currently has two northbound lanes, two southbound lanes and a turn lane.

Under the proposed plan, a pedestrian walkway would be added to the southbound side of the bridge.

The center of the street would have some sections with a turn lane and some sections with a median with landscaping.

Chuck Sanders, owner of Sanders Gas Company, said he would like to see the bridge on 22nd Ave. widened first.

“I just personally think that we need to slow down a little bit and we need to think first about commerce,” Sanders said. 

Joe Johnson, owner of SMI Automotive, said the traffic pattern would make it difficult for customers to access his property. 

“You have to get cars in and out, trucks, trailers, bigger items and they’re throttling us back or choking us down to one lane with trees and stuff in the middle. It’s really hard to picture that working,” Johnson said. 

Johnson said he would support adding trees and greenery down the sides of the road, but not in the median. 

Neel-Schaffer, Inc. expects to have the design finalized by June and the project completed by early 2021, Ramsey said.

“These are very schematic documents,” Ramsey said. “These are documents that we wanted to generate conversation and learn how people use it and that’s exactly what we’ve heard today.” 

The project will be funded by a Transportation Alternatives Program grant of approximately $1.1 million as well as $565,000 appropriated by the state legislature, according to Meridian Public Works Director Hugh Smith.

The Transportation Alternatives Program is funded by the Federal Highway Administration and administered by the Mississippi Department of Transportation, Ramsey said.

“It’s the gateway to our city,” said Mayor Percy Bland. “It’s been an eyesore for years and we want to improve it and once we do improve it, it will be the talk of the state.”

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