New Albany, MS- It’s a street 20 feet wide (or less) and six-tenths of a mile long and designed to meet traffic conditions of 75 years ago.
Relative to its importance to the health and well-being of every person in New Albany and Union County and thousands in adjacent counties, it is simply the worst section of road we have.
You decide for yourself. Here are the facts:
- Running east-to-west from Highway 30 to Bankhead St. (Highway 178), it is generally known as Oxford Road, although the first few hundred feet off of Highway 30 is called Coulter Drive.
- Oxford Road provides access to Baptist Memorial Hospital-Union County and to ten other medical care facilities, including most of the primary care physicians in the county. Within the year, the only primary care doctors in town not now on Oxford Road will move to Fairfield Street. Oxford Road provides the only access to Fairfield.
- Baptist Hospital and the medical facilities surrounding it comprise the second largest privately owned economic development in Union County. Only Toyota is larger. Since the new Emergency Department opened, there has been a 20 percent increase in ER business; it is the most recent factor increasing traffic on this road.
What is now Highway 30 was built when Union County General Hospital opened 50 years ago. Before then, what is now known as Oxford Road was Highway 30. With the completion two years ago of its new $11-million emergency department, the Oxford Road side has become the “front” of the hospital. All parking for the new emergency room and about 90% of all parking for hospital employees and visitors is now reached from Oxford Road.
“Our front door is now Oxford Road,” Randy White, Chief Nursing Officer for Baptist Memorial Hospital-Union County, said recently.
The New Albany city code requires that all new residential roads in the city be a minimum of 27 feet wide with curbs and gutters. “Feeder” streets, those into which traffic flows from other streets, must be 36 feet wide, curb to curb.
Yet Oxford Road is only 20 feet wide, even less in many places where the pavement has broken away, creating traffic safety problems. Pavement is crumbled away on both sides of the .6 mile stretch of road. In several instances more than a foot of pavement has disintegrated on the road edge. Several “pot holes” are more than two feet long.
- The Oxford Road intersections at both at Highway 30 and Highway 178 are so narrow that there are no left hand turn lanes. Motorists making right turns onto Hwy. 30 or Hwy. 178 from Oxford Rd. are blocked when a vehicle in front of them is waiting to make a left turn.
- Very few motor vehicles can make right turns onto Oxford Road from the north or south sides without crossing the center line of the pavement.
- Large trailer trucks delivering supplies to Baptist Hospital on a daily basis come up Renasant Drive, but cannot turn onto Oxford Road without crossing into the oncoming traffic lane.
The blind curves of Oxford Road add additional peril for drivers:
- Hospital ambulances (eight feet wide, nine feet high, 22 feet long, and weighing about 16,000 pounds), like all vehicles traveling east on Oxford Road, must negotiate an “S” curve east of Renasant Drive, where they are “blind” to oncoming traffic for a couple of hundred yards.
- Drivers turning onto Oxford from Fairfield Drive cannot see traffic approaching from the west, because of the double curved, narrow roadway.
- Since the first of August, at least two Baptist employees have been involved in dangerous close calls on Oxford Road. One of the mishaps involved a vehicle that had drifted into the opposite lane on the narrow “S” curve, where the center line is not even marked. In that incident, one vehicle was forced off the road to avoid a head-on collision.
Though Baptist Hospital, its new Emergency Department and the other medical facilities on Ocford Road are drawing increasing traffic, with more coming soon, Oxford Road barely meets the minimal standards expected of urban streets and highways in the 1930s. Not even close to 2016 standards.
We have discussed this matter with many people, with not a single person denying that Oxford Road is inadequate for its current use and needs to be substantially improved. The question is how to pay for it. To do what’s necessary will take serious commitment and the best efforts of both the New Albany Board of Aldermen and the Union County Board of Supervisors.
It cannot be done overnight. Both governing boards need to start discussing the problem and seeking the solution now. The two boards need to agree a upon plan and start looking for money in their own strained budgets, from grants and from other State of Mississippi resources.
It may take a of couple of years to find and execute a workable solution, but every month of delay means Oxford Road traffic increases, its condition deteriorates, and the fix becomes more expensive.
Baptist Memorial Healthcare has invested more than $60-million to create today’s Baptist Memorial Hospital-Union County, making it by far the best hospital in any small county in the state. Only last week Baptist Union County opened a new $600-thousand cancer treatment center.
Local elected officials need to work together to find a way to build a decent road to its front door.
A LOOK AT OXFORD ROAD
NEXT WEEK: What are the options and potential costs of needed improvements to Oxford Road?