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It will take more than good intentions to pave this hellish road

CEO Walter Grace Baptist Union County Emergency Department.

New Albany, MS– Our story last week about the poor condition of the main access road to Baptist Memorial Hospital Union County drew a great deal of attention and comment.

This Google Earth image shows Oxford Road, which provides primary access to Baptist Memorial Hospital-Union County and most of the other available medical services in Union County. (Click to enlarge)

This Google Earth image shows Oxford Road, which provides primary access to Baptist Memorial Hospital-Union County and most of the other available medical services in Union County. (Click to enlarge)

Somewhat to our surprise, not a single person we heard from disagreed with our premise that Oxford Road needs to be substantially upgraded. The consensus that the road needs to be very substantially upgraded seems to be virtually unanimous.

However, the harder questions remain open: To what extent should Oxford Road be improved? How should the work be paid for, and by whom? When will the work be done?

“I agree with your thoughts about the need for improvements to Oxford Road and that they should be given high priority. I thought it was ‘spot on,’ as the English would say.” –Mike Staten, Senior Vice-President, BNA Bank


“I’m for it. The hospital is a very important part of our community, and we need to showcase it by fixing the Oxford Road entrance to Baptist Hospital.” –John Young, Businessman

Members of the New Albany Board of Aldermen have recognized the need for work on the 6/10-mile stretch of Oxford Road that runs west to east from Highway 30 to Bankhead Street (Highway 178). About three months ago, the city government authorized Engineering Solutions, Inc. (ESI), its consulting engineers, to study what should be done to the improve Oxford Road and how much it would cost. Civil engineer Brett Brooks, of ESI, told recently that he had looked at two options:

  • The first option would be to work on Oxford Road from Renasant Drive to Bankhead Street, the narrow section of Oxford Road that includes a couple of dangerous blind curves. To widen the road a foot or two, install curbs and gutters and repave that section is estimated to cost $485,000. How much of the danger of the blind curves could be addressed may depend on the cooperation of property owners on both sides of the road. A small additional amount of right-of-way (ROW) might be needed to remove brush and trees and re-grade the sides of the road.
  • The second proposal would be to widen, install curbs and gutters and pave the entire length of the road from Highway 30 to Bankhead. ESI estimates it would cost $610-thousand to do the entire length of that section of Coulter Drive and Oxford Road. [It might be appropriate to point out here that Baptist Memorial Healthcare spent $600-thousand just to build the new Cancer Center which opened two weeks ago.
City of New Albany Aldermen address Oxford Road question
“Improving Oxford Drive and Coulter Road is on our radar. ESI, our engineers, began working on this about three months ago. We have estimates with and without curb and gutters.” –Johnny Anderson, Ward Two Alderman.

“We’ve already discussed it, and we know it needs to be done. It’s a matter of coming up with the money. If we had the money we would already have done it.” –Kevin Dale White, Ward Three Alderman

” We all think it’s a good idea. We have to find the money. If some grant money could be found that would help move things along.” –Scott Dunham, Alderman-at-Large

“I totally agree with you that Oxford Rd. needs to be improved. It’s going to be an expensive project, but I would like to see it done. I don’t know where we’d get all the money it would require.” –Will Tucker, Alderman, Ward 4

Deep, wide pot hole and pools of standing water, seen recently following a brief summer shower.

Deep, wide pot hole and pools of standing water, seen recently following a brief summer shower.

The ESI estimates do not include any money for the acquisition of right-of-way. The reasonable assumption is that property owners would be willing to donate a foot or two of ROW, because it would enhance the overall value of their property. There is, of course, no assurance that reason will always prevail

Oxford Road is a city street, so the primary responsibility for planning the work and paying for it falls on the New Albany city government. It is doubtful that the city government alone could afford to pay for all that needs to be done.

About 70 percent of the 28,000 people in Union County, who are the primary users of the hospital and other medical facilities accessed by Oxford Road, live outside the New Albany city limits.

Some have suggested that the county government should help pay for the needed work, and some members of the Union County Board of Supervisors have indicated to that the county board would consider helping pay for the work. However, until the matter is discussed further, county supervisors are uncertain how much the county would be able and willing to pay.

Union County Supervisors address Oxford Road question
“We need to do something about Oxford Road. It’s a question of how much it’s going to be.” –Randy Owen, President and District Four Supervisor, Union County Board of Supervisors

“It needs some work done. It’s going to depend on the money involved. We are willing to work with the city on it.” — Chad Coffey, District Two Supervisor

“I travel up and down Oxford Road on a regular basis. I believe it needs some attention. The exact proposal needs to make sense. We are willing to talk to the New Albany Board of Aldermen about it.” –Dave Kitchens, District Three Supervisor

Since the first Oxford Rd. story ran last week, someone's vehicle ran off the narrow, un-striped roadway.

Since the first Oxford Rd. story ran last week, someone’s vehicle ran off the narrow, un-striped roadway.

Last year, the city and county split evenly the $170-thousand cost of replacing the bridge at the eastern end of Oxford Road that spans a large drainage ditch. The condition of the old bridge did not allow it to be used by the ambulances operated by Baptist-Union County. The new bridge is 26 feet wide, six feet wider than Oxford Road itself.

The county government has about $8-million in the bank in a special account that was required to be set up when the county-owned hospital was leased to Baptist Memorial Healthcare three decades ago. The idea of that special account is for the county government to have emergency money to provide medical care in case Baptist Memorial Healthcare no longer operates the hospital. That possibility seems remote, but the account must be maintained.

Only the earnings from that $8-million may be spent for health care needs in the county. During recent years some of that income has been used to pay for medical care for inmates at the Union County jail.

“Baptist has created a first-rate medical facility, and we need to make some very substantial improvements to Oxford Road. This is a problem with a not-so-simple cure. I will look forward to seeing what options are developed and hope we can act soon.” — Phil Nanney, UCDA Executive Director

The needs and priorities of the city and county boards are by no means the same, and they have different constituencies to satisfy. However, each of the boards seems to have a good understanding of the other. So far as we know, the personal relationships between county and city board members are congenial and cooperative.

The possibility that the Mississippi Department of Transportation (MDOT) might contribute something toward the cost of improving Oxford Road has been mentioned, but we do not believe that has been discussed with MDOT. There has also been speculation about the availability of some “grant money” to help pay for the needed work.

The need for work on Oxford Road is agreed upon.

We hope — and believe — that the New Albany Board of Aldermen and the Union County Board of Supervisors will work together to build a decent roadway to Baptist Hospital and the medical clinics on the east side of Oxford Road.

The time to create, finance and implement a reasonable plan to substantially improve road access to Baptist Hospital is right now. It will never be any cheaper, and the need is clearly immediate.

To see more on this story: Oxford Road, Part I “Time to build a decent road to the “front door” of Baptist Hospital.

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