Southern Sentinel

Mississippi infrastructure grants include $1.4 million for possible Tanglefoot Trail expansion from New Albany to Ripley

By Hank Wiesner, Special to the Sentinel

WASHINGTON, D.C. • U.S. Senators Roger Wicker, R-Miss., and Cindy Hyde-Smith, R-Miss., this week praised the award of three grants totaling $15.4 million for infrastructure projects in Yazoo City, Tupelo, and Ripley.

Local folks were also pleased with the Ripley portion of the grants, which includes $1,400,000 for planning operations regarding a possible 20-mile extension of the Tanglefoot Trail from New Albany north to Ripley, they said this week.

The Tanglefoot is a rails-to-trails hiking and biking path traversing Union, Pontotoc and Chickasaw counties.

The Tippah County Development Foundation and Ripley Main Street Association have been studying the proposed expansion to the trail, which is about 44 miles long.

The extension, a rail-with-trail about 20 miles east of Tupelo, would run next to the rail line and Highway 15, and pass through the Town of Blue Mountain.

Dist. 4 State Rep. Jody Steverson this week offered a short description of the project, which he said “will encourage non-vehicular, affordable active transportation options to several destinations throughout the region, particularly those related to tourism.

“It will also help provide community connectivity, while helping to improve quality of life and increase economic activity in the communities involved.”

In a letter to U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigeg earlier this year, Rep. Steverson outlined the project’s benefits.

See a related article elsewhere in this issue for details of the letter.

Said Ripley Main Street Director Elizabeth Behm this week: “The Tanglefoot project is still in its early stages, and it will likely be years down the road before it’s completed.

“There will be more engineering plans over the next 12 to 16 months to see if the entire project is feasible, and at some point we’ll have to apply for more funding to finance the project.

“When and if the project is completed, though, it will do a lot of good for Ripley and Tippah County.

“It will bring a lot more people to town, and that will help the shops and businesses here.

“It will also help develop the health of the people in this area, and give people a good outlet to get out and be active,” she said.

Tippah County Development Foundation Executive Director Chris Lewellen said this week: “This RAISE Grant Award for the proposed Tanglefoot Trail extension from New Albany to Ripley is a great first step in the hopeful creation of a generational project that will provide many long-term benefits for the citizens of Tippah County.

“It will open an obvious door to help spur additional tourism opportunities along with our existing marketable attractions, but it will also provide many health benefits and enhance the livability for all age groups in Tippah County. We hope this is the first stage of a completed project in the years to come."

The three grants, which are specifically designed for local projects, were awarded by the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) through the Rebuilding American Infrastructure with Sustainability & Equity (RAISE) grant program.

“These grants will help several important projects move forward across our state,” Sen. Wicker said.

Said Sen. Hyde-Smith: “Each of the proposals put forth by these cities offer great potential for improving the quality of life for their residents, through improved public safety, better infrastructure, and more economic opportunities.”

According to a recent preliminary study by Philip Walker of The Walker Collaborative and Russ Bryan with Neel-Schaffer, and funded by the Mississippi Hills National Heritage Area, the proposed trail would likely be a 10-foot-wide paved path, compatible with the present trail.

The engineering representatives said a detailed study will cost $1.13 million, about 5% of the estimated construction costs.

The report indicated the preliminary estimate for the proposed 20 miles is $26.6 million or $1.33 million per mile.

The study indicates the possible expansion would be part of the Rails-with-Trails program, rather than Rails-to-Trails program, because the path would be built between Highway 15 and the still-in-use Pioneer Railroad line.

Other findings from the report:
—Nine crossings totaling 1,330 ft. would be built over creeks and ditches, including the Little Tallahatchie River.
—The new section’s proposed layout would have trailheads at Blue Mountain and Ripley, and possibly one near Cotton Plant.
—A new way station for the section would have information kiosks, interpretive signs parking, lighting, public restrooms, seating, and water fountains, similar to other way stations on the present trail, according to published reports.
—Three Rivers Planning and Development District Director Randy Kelley, whose organization helped establish Tanglefoot, said Tanglefoot counties have millage set aside for the trail maintenance. Strategies and discussions related to maintenance and available funding will be part of the operation and maintenance task of the preliminary engineering report.
—The RAISE Grant program is highly competitive, and is one of the few DOT discretionary programs for which regional and local governments can directly compete for multimodal transportation funding.
—The program replaced the Better Utilizing Investments to Leverage Development (BUILD) Transportation grants program and the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grant program.