Contractors are putting the finishing touches on north Mississippi’s Tanglefoot Trail.
The 44.5-mile long multi-use recreational trail will be the region’s answer to South Mississippi’s Longleaf Trace recreational trail.
Tanglefoot runs from New Albany to Houston. The trail is an old Gulf Mobile & Ohio railroad.
Betsey Hamilton, chairperson of the GM&O Rails to Trails Recreational District, said in an interview this week that the trail will be ready to use “by football season.”
She said the wet winter and spring delayed construction, pushing back the original opening date, set for early this year. Contractors ran into another significant roadblock when they started working on a bridge near New Albany whose ballasts were in worse shape than first thought.
“I wish I could tell you exactly when but it’s going to depend on inspections, check list and how fast that gets done,” she said.
A $9.6-million federal transportation enhancement grant, to go with a combined $450,000 in state money, funded the project.
Hamilton most of what remains are the trail’s whistle stops, under construction in Ecru, Algoma, Ingomar and New Houlka. All the asphalt has been laid, except for a small patch near New Albany that was delayed due to work on an adjacent overpass.
“That was kind of a hold-up,” Hamilton said. “We’ve been told that as soon as can get their equipment (for work on the adjacent overpass) out that we think we’ll be able to open the trail underneath. That little connection is probably the last piece of asphalt unless there was a section I was not aware of.”
Until then, the trail is under the purview of general contractors Glasgow Construction, of Guin, Ala., and is closed to the public.
Figures unveiled in 2006, when conceptual work on the project started, put annual visitors at 100,000 with an economic impact of just shy of $5 million for the three counties the trail traverses.
“And a lot of that was taken from the Longleaf,” Hamilton said. “I don’t think ours will be that big yet. We’re not Hattiesburg, but I think it will have a tremendous impact.”
Hamilton said there were several things working in the trail’s favor, as far as attracting visitors. Chief among them was the new Interstate 22, the old U.S. Highway 78 that runs by the trail’s northern gate in New Albany. The Natchez Trace runs by the trail’s middle and southern portion, which ends in Houston. “Our positioning is good,” Hamilton said.
Development related to the trail is another issue.
Mississippi State’s Carl Small Town Center is partnering with the University of North Carolina and North Carolina State University to figure out ways to handle the anticipated traffic increase once Tanglefoot opens. The schools will be using first-of-its-kind technology to do it.
A $120,000 grant awarded by the Southeast Transportation Research, Innovation, Development and Education Center will fund a study that will allow researchers to run test scenarios of possible development related to the trail.
Carl Center director Dr. John Poros told the Mississippi Business Journal last year researchers will spend 15 months compiling data, and plan to issue their findings in a report in December of this year. Poros added that one of the primary goals of the study is to help save communities money and improve their air quality as people begin to use Tanglefoot.
“What we will do is come up with a series of scenarios of how they might develop, and we’ll take those and run them in a GIS-based transportation program that the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill has put together. It will model transportation throughout that entire region”.
The Northeast Mississippi region is ripe for this kind of research, Poros said, because of the kind of growth it’s already experienced and the anticipation that it will continue as suppliers for Blue Springs’ Toyota plant continue to locate there.