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VOL. 115 | NO. 208 | Thursday, December 6, 2001

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Study to focus on third river bridge


The Daily News

A joint congressional committee approved the 2002 Transportation Conference Report last week, which includes language allowing for a study to evaluate spanning a third Mississippi River bridge in the Memphis area.

The language was included in an amendment to the Senate version of the bill, added by U.S. Sen. Bill Frist (R-TN). The conference report will now go before the House and Senate for a final vote before being sent to President Bush by years end.

The addition of a third Mississippi River crossing in Memphis has been a topic of discussion for years, but according to city engineer John Conroy, this will be the first time the idea has garnered serious consideration.

Its something that is needed and will well serve the area, Conroy said. I think its going to be beneficial in many ways.

Since neither the Memphis & Arkansas Bridge nor the Hernando DeSoto Bridge were originally built to meet existing seismic requirements. Conroy said a third bridge built to seismic code is a necessity considering the realistic threat of an earthquake occurring along the New Madrid fault, situated in the Mississippi River valley.

However, the Hernando DeSoto Bridge is currently undergoing a massive seven-year rehabilitation, which includes seismic retrofitting.

In the event of a significant earthquake, youll probably lose the I-55 bridge, and then youd only have one, and you dont replace a bridge of this nature in a couple of months, he said. If you had a third bridge which obviously would be built to seismic criteria, then youve always got at least two bridges that are going to be standing even if a major earthquake came.

Another river crossing in Memphis would also alleviate the mounting traffic problems recently experienced on the two existing bridges.

Weve had occasions when we had traffic backed up for hours, and if we had a third alternate to utilize other than the I-40 or the I-55 bridges, it would make it much easier to divert traffic and not have people trapped in that congestion for hours on end, he said.

Numerous fatal traffic accidents in the past year are a major source of that congestion. There are currently no shoulders open for the first three miles of I-40 because of construction, leaving no place for motorists experiencing vehicle trouble to pull out of traffic.

Until vehicles reach the Dr. Martin Luther King Boulevard exit more than three miles into Arkansas, there are no connecting roads between the two interstates either.

Luanne Grandinetti, Tennessee Department of Transportation director of public affairs, said the project would be handled through TDOT, which will likely hire consultants to perform the study expected to include engineering, environmental and economic analyses.

Weve wanted another crossing there at the river in Memphis for a long time, Grandinetti said. State officials had hoped to see the I-69 project cross into Arkansas through Memphis, which wouldve provided another bridge; but instead the crossing was placed in Rosedale, Miss., she said.

Considering the size and location of Memphis, Grandinetti said a third bridge is almost necessary to handle the high volume of local, state and national traffic. In fact, other cities such as Cincinnati have as many as six river crossings.

The junction of interstates 40 and 55 in West Memphis, Ark., is the second busiest stretch of interstate in the nation.

Its not unusual to have more than two (crossings), and certainly it would be a very good thing for the city of Memphis, she said.

Regardless of the location of a possible third bridge, either to the south or north, Conroy said the city only stands to benefit.

It just opens up whatever part of the city it may serve, for better access and probably for development.

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