About 100 people turned out today to focus on Fondren – and funds that have been allocated to provide what city leaders are dubbing ‘transportation enhancement improvements’. A $2,000,000 federal grant was awarded last year and requires a $500,000 city match. It’s a project planners say the city is very much in favor of. Jonathan Kiser, a professional traffic engineer and transportation planner with Neel Shaffer (the firm awarded the design project), says the scope of this project is a different mentality for the city. “To provide better bike and pedestrian access,” he said “is a huge component.” Kiser asked what Fondren wants to embrace. He says the planners will take that back to the city and formulate a direction. The grant is by no means all-inclusive. Kiser called the project ‘a small component of overall need.’
Councilwoman Margarett Barrett Simon was asked to say a few words but she relied mostly on a different skill: listening. “We’re here today to hear from you,” she said, “but it’s obvious what is needed.” Simon said those needs include how to maneuver pedestrian and bicycle traffic and how to connect with University of Mississippi Medical campus. “This deals with how we get around that doesn’t involve cars and the amenities that go along with that”. Kiser added that there are a lot of opportunities for a non-automobile transportation system in Fondren. But the monies are for other measures as well. “The grant allows for way-finding and significance signage along with public art components,” he said. While the wants ran the gamut from better bicycle parking (definitely doable) to crosswalks with speed tables (highly possible) to a traffic light at Fondren Place and State (not covered by this grant), planners were quick to reign the crowd in. “What’s most important,” they asked? “Sometimes you consider options, but you must address the limitations.” Post-It notes were placed on maps that showed the project boundaries and comment cards were submitted during and after the question and answer session.
Dan Gaillet, Director of Public Works for the city, said this meeting was very unique. “We are coming to you first,” he told the crowd, “with no ideas by design.” Gaillet assured it wouldn’t be a swift process. “We’ll take your ideas and compile them,” he said “and make sure they meet requirements set forth by the Mississippi Department of Transportation.” Gaillet said that his department is hopeful that engineers can come up with a design ‘in relatively short order’. “It will probably be next spring before you see construction activity.”