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Oxford plans road improvements by activity complex and on U.S. 78

OXFORD The City Council approved improvements to local roadways including Spring Branch Road, Tower Road and Elm Street, along with a plan to apply for state money to widen U.S. 78 near the Oxford Exchange. 

The federal highway project generated the most discussion; city projects manager Fred Denney said U.S. 78 would be widened between Bobo Lane and Leon Smith Parkway from two to four lanes. The project will cover a little over a half mile and cost about $4.1 million. The city has about $1.1 million set aside for roads, Councilman Mike Henderson noted, but Denney explained that as much as $2 million could be granted to the city by the Alabama Transportation Rehabilitation and Improvement Program II, or ATRIP II, part of the Rebuild Alabama Act. 

City leaders would need to invest city money to make awarding the grant a more appealing proposition to the state Department of Transportation, Denney explained, and he noted that the money is not a dollar-for-dollar match, like some other grants. 

“They want you to have some skin in the game,” Denney told the council during its pre-meeting work session. 

The state has $30 million to award at a maximum of $2 million per project, he explained. City finance staff explained that the money comes from the state’s gas tax and was expected to be twice as much this year, but the effect of COVID — which put a stop on transportation earlier this year and drove the cost of oil barrels down — kept the fund from growing as expected. 

Councilman Steven Waits said he was concerned about spending the road money without having paved more roads in the city, but Denney explained that the project could take a few years to get started, during which time the city would be able to prepare its finances for the expense.  

Meanwhile, more road work is being prepared for new businesses at Interstate 20’s Exit 185. Eugene Turner General Contracting won a bid to improve drainage on Spring Branch Road, Tower Road and Elm Street at a total of $86,850. Each of the three roads surround a plot of land where Big Time Entertainment, a huge entertainment and activity complex, is set to open sometime in the next few months, just northeast of the Walmart and Chick-Fil-A and southeast of Exit 185. 

The roads will be widened to accommodate traffic, as well, Spurlin mentioned during the work session. 

During its meeting, the City Council: 

— Declared land along Marvin Jones Drive to be surplus and sold it to the Oxford Board of Education for $4,000. The council announced in June that it planned to sell the half-acre of land to the school board, and sold another portion of land along the road to a private resident at that time. 

— Appropriated $18,097 from the city general fund to pay for a welcome sign to be constructed in downtown Oxford by Hale Building Company. The brick sign will match the style of an already-existing sign at the Oxford Performing Arts Center. 

— Rescheduled a meeting set for Nov. 10 to Monday, Nov. 2, at 11 a.m. in the council’s chambers at City Hall.