The state of Tennessee has withdrawn $316,680 from the city for a riverfront bike and pedestrian system due to inactivity, according to state officials.
“Sorry for the bad news but this project is very old and there was no movement and I could not get any information out of any one on why there was such a delay in getting the project constructed that Federal Highway Administration said they were pulling the funding,” Lisa Dunn, transportation planner with the Tennessee Department of Transportation, wrote in an email to Jim Reeder, project development coordinator for the Riverfront Development Corp.
The news comes as the city has placed a high priority on bike and pedestrian trails and follows a scathing state comptroller’s report on the city’s finances.
The city was supposed to match the $316,680 in state funds with $79,171 in city funds. But Dunn said the most recent contact she had with city officials about the project was in 2011.
“I did send a letter to the Mayor (A C Wharton Jr.) on Monday, June 10, 2013, advising him that this project is being closed by FHWA due to inactivity on the project,” Dunn said. “As such this project has been dropped.”
The plan for the cobblestones includes a walkway that would allow visitors to walk along the water’s edge at the Wolf River Harbor. Without the walkway, the cobblestones are a missing link between Beale Street Landing and Tom Lee Park to the south, and where the riverside trail picks up on the north at Jefferson Davis Park going north to the area west of The Pyramid by the city floodwalls.
The Riverfront Development Corp. has been searching for under $1 million in funding in the last year to make up for a loss in federal funding.
The notice from the state on the Federal Highway Administration funding comes after what Riverfront Development Corp. President Benny Lendermon described as a change in regulations by the state.
“That contract allowed for what was spent on design to be used for matching local dollars for the federal money,” Lendermon said in March on the WKNO-TV program “Behind The Headlines.” “The state changed the regulation and now there is $742,000 the city has spent in good faith. … Now the state has said rules have changed and we can’t use that. So we are scrambling now trying to figure out where to come up with that money.”
Last month, during budget committee sessions, Memphis City Council members rejected plans by the Wharton administration to provide more funding for the project.
The Design Review Board of the Downtown Memphis Commission approved the plan for the cobblestones in May 2012 with work set to start last fall. The Memphis Landmarks Commission also approved the project in 2012.
But the project had its critics who argued the restoration project isn’t in keeping with the historic nature of what was the city’s major port and passenger landing during the 19th century.
Some have remained critical of items in the plan that would include paved paths among the cobblestones and the use of filler material or replica cobblestones where the originals are missing.