TUPELO • A nine-mile stretch of the Natchez Trace Parkway in Lee County could be closed for up to five months for much-needed repairs.
The first phase of the work will start at mile marker 257 at Highway 6/US Highway 278 and continue north to mile marker 262 at the McCullough Boulevard exit. The second phase of the project will go from McCullough north past the visitor’s center and stop at Highway 145.
The work will likely begin later this month. Parkway Acting Director of Interpretation Mandi Toy said they have not set an official start date yet, but they have already placed electronic signs to give motorists fair warning.
“The weather will be key to this project,” Toy said. “If the weather cooperates, we hope to have both phases completed in about five months.”
The roadwork, which is almost entirely within the city limits of Tupelo, will force motorists to find alternate routes. That could have a big impact on commuters who rely on the parkway to get to and from work or from the west side of Tupelo to the commercial center near The Mall at Barnes Crossing.
“It’s going to affect me as well,” Toy said. “But I should remind people that the parkway was designed for recreational use as part of the National Park Service, not so much for commuters.”
The construction project will not only mill and overlay the parkway, it will also resurface the historic and informative pullouts. The work will also include the exit ramps connecting the parkway to public roads.
Unlike state road resurfacing projects that allow motorists to continue to use the road by utilizing flag men and one-lane sections, stretches of the parkway will completely close. Toy said that will help ensure the workers’ safety and allow them to more quickly complete the job.
The first phase will mill and overlay a 6-mile stretch, as well as the exit ramps at Cliff Gookin Boulevard and Main Street. The official detour to avoid the construction is nearly 12 miles long.
“My best recommendation is to follow the detour signs,” Troy said. “They will be getting them all into place shortly. The plan is to direct traffic from the south end onto Highway 278 east onto Highway 45. It will then turn onto McCullough Boulevard, where motorists can rejoin the parkway.”
Motorists won’t be the only folks affected by the parkway closures; the work will also close off access to portions of the Trace to both hikers and cyclists.
The roadwork will also close down the bulk of the Blackland Prairie section of the parkway’s hiking trail. Because the trail uses the parkway bridge over McCullough Boulevard, the lower 4 miles will have to be closed.
“They can still join it at the Old Town Overlook (just north of Interstate 22) and continue on to the interpretive center,” Toy said. “That will be about 2 miles, one way.”
Once an actual start date for construction is set, officials will release more details to the public.