May 6, 2014 10:26:17 AM
Carl Smith - [email protected]
About 20 Blackjack residents say they, along with commuters who use the widely traveled thoroughfare near Mississippi State University, are forced to endure dangerous conditions on Blackjack Road as heavy construction equipment associated with housing developments block and damage the street.
Construction efforts have begun on at least one of three apartment complexes in the area, and residents say trucks hauling material sometimes block a portion of Blackjack road as they unload. Residents also reported some truckers block a portion road while sleeping in their rigs.
The continuous run of heavy loads also created serious damage, they said, which could force drivers to unsafe parts of the road or damage their cars.
County Road Manager Victor Collins said his crews will install "No parking" and "No unloading" signs along Blackjack Road's trouble spots so Oktibbeha County deputies can enforce the rules, but a quick solution to larger problems associated with the community's rapid growth may take longer.
Through the years, residents have hammered supervisors on a number of issues associated with the road, including traffic congestion, speeding, surface quality and general safety. The influx of population associated with new developments -- the three housing complexes are a combined $100 million effort expected to provide about 2,500 beds -- has county officials scrambling to alleviate the problems before they worsen.
One apartment complex will open this year, while the other two are slated to open in 2015.
Supervisors are working with Joey Deason, Oktibbeha County's Golden Triangle Development Link representative, to develop a tax increment financing district in the area that could help fund infrastructure improvements, including the installation of bike lanes, sidewalks, landscaping and improved lighting.
District 5 Supervisor Joe Williams said he wants to see portions of Blackjack Road widened, but such a project could prove difficult as right-of-way areas contain many above- and underground utilities. Moving those pieces of infrastructure could take years, Collins said.
Supervisors also stopped short of approving a traffic study for Blackjack Road Monday. The review could lead to the county re-addressing lane configurations and the roundabout that feeds both it and Oktoc Road.
Officials have yet to set boundaries for the TIF district, and general financing measures could not be ready for public presentation until the summer.
"At this point, no single option is excluded. We're taking a look at all of those parameters. We've got to make sure that we can do our best to be risk aversive and not put county and its citizens in a position that's not good for them," Deason previously told The Dispatch. "At the same time, we fully understand the magnitude of the transportation issue -- it's going to be addressed. With potential of all three projects, the county will be provided some very good financing avenues."
A potential Starkville annexation could also complicate future plans. The city is poised to enter into an annexation study with an Oxford-based firm, Slaughter and Associates, today. The area of the Blackjack community where the incoming apartment complexes are located are one of five logical expansion areas for the city, but officials have not confirmed what outlying territories Starkville could take over in the future.
Carl Smith covers Starkville and Oktibbeha County for The Dispatch. Follow him on Twitter @StarkDispatch