Construction of the segment of Melissa Road from Highway 5 to Highway 121 will begin later this year as utility companies are currently wrapping up the relocation of their lines, the final portion of the preparatory work before heavy equipment begins moving dirt.

The new segment will make it easier to move in an east-west direction, essentially connecting U.S. Highway 75 with Hwy. 121 and giving residents who live in east Melissa a direct route to the newly expanded freeway. The reconstruction of Hwy. 121 will also make for easier and faster travel to and from the population centers on the east side of town.

Plans call for the eventual expansion and reconstruction of Hwy. 5 as well, although that work is considered to be in the fairly distant future.

Construction on the Melissa Road segment is scheduled to start in the fall of this year. Slated as a five-lane curbed concrete thoroughfare, with two lanes in either direction separated by a turn lane along the centerline, the road will essentially straighten the current winding route to get from Hwy. 5 to Hwy. 121.

“The completion of Melissa Road from Hwy. 5 to Hwy. 121 will serve as the hub for the development of the downtown area and will give us both an economic development boost and a destination area for locals and visitors,” City Manager Jason Little said in a press release announcing the work. “We see the new segment as the completion of the foundation upon which we’ll build a downtown that will be distinctively Melissa.”

Construction costs will be covered by existing funds derived from previous bond sales approved by voters. Firm dates for the start of construction for the shovel-ready project, expected to last 18 months, will be determined once contractor bids are solicited, reviewed and chosen.

While the existing Melissa Road from Hwy. 75 to Hwy. 5 includes a median, the new segment is designed to provide motorists with easier and more plentiful opportunities for turns onto future retail businesses, residential areas and parking spaces planned for the envisioned downtown district.

In addition to utility relocation, a below-grade drainage channel will be constructed under the roadbed to ensure proper movement of stormwater. Significantly, the distinctive water tower overseeing the segment will remain, giving the area a hometown feel once shops, dining establishments, retail and service businesses begin to line the walkable downtown area.