By Alyssa Schnugg
The construction of a new roundabout at the intersection of Sisk Avenue and Highway 7 is set to begin later this month.
The Oxford Board of Aldermen took several steps Tuesday to get the ball rolling on the much-needed improvements to the busy intersection, including approving a Memorandum of Agreement with the Mississippi Department of Transportation to construct the roundabout since the roadway is owned by MDOT.
However, despite its ownership, MDOT has requested the city of Oxford pay for the improvements and the maintenance of the new intersection.
The road is being funded with a Tax Increment Financing bond, also known as a TIF. Developer David Blackburn will pay for the roundabouts, about $11 million. After construction on the 80-acres of land around Oxford Commons is complete, and enough taxes are collected from properties occupying the new construction, the city will sell the bonds and pay the developer back.
The city and Lafayette County will then repay the bond from the taxes collected from businesses and properties built after the road improvements. However, the county will only be repaying the bond with ad valorem taxes collected on future construction since the county does not collect sales tax.
Mayor Robyn Tannehill said MDOT’s request for the city to maintain the roundabouts is “unfair” to Oxford taxpayers.
“This is all on MDOT roadway, it’s not a city street or privately-owned property,” she said. “… You the taxpayers will pay for this over the next 20 years. I think MDOT should handle the maintenance of up to an $11 million roadway that the citizens are paying for on MDOT right-of-way.”
However, Tannehill recommended the board approve the agreement so that construction can move forward as the city continues to try to change MDOT’s position on maintenance. Tannehill said she has contacted MDOT officials with her concerns.
The preliminary plan for improvement calls for two roundabouts to be placed on Sisk Avenue, one for each exit off Highway 7, as well as additional work to the roads within the Oxford Commons development.
After the Board of Aldermen unanimously approved the agreement, they also approved closing Sisk Avenue in stages to complete the project by the time schools open on Aug. 7.
The first stage of construction will close the southbound ramps of Highway 7 to traffic and will close Sisk Avenue between Ridgewood Manor and the northbound ramps. This stage will last for approximately one month to allow for the construction of a roundabout.
During the second stage in July, the northbound ramps will also be closed to allow for the construction of roundabouts at that intersection at Ed Perry Boulevard and Sisk Avenue. During the month, Sisk Avenue will be closed between Ridgewood Manor and Enterprise Drive.
Drivers headed into or out of Oxford Commons will need to take Ed Perry Boulevard to and from Highway 30. Access will remain open to all businesses in Oxford Commons throughout construction via Commonwealth Boulevard, Ed Perry Boulevard or Sisk Avenue.
The board also granted permission for extended work hours including Sundays; however, construction hours will not be extended near the Ridgewood Manor residential area. City Engineer Reanna Mayoral said the Sisk Avenue Extension should be open in July, which connects Sisk with Highway 6, giving residents another option to have access to Oxford Commons during the later phase of the roundabout project.