Roadmap to Improvement

MPO seeks public input on transportation plans

By Eric Smith

MAPPING THE FUTURE: The Memphis Urban Area Metropolitan Planning Organization is overhauling its short-term and long-term transportation plans and is seeking public input, such as at this past meeting. -- Photo Courtesy Of Kimley-Horn And Associates Inc.

Take a moment to consider what Memphis and the surrounding area will look like 23 years from now. Where will the majority of people live and where will they work? How many businesses will have opened or closed, relocated or expanded?

Now imagine a transportation infrastructure that can handle every scenario. Will the roadways be robust enough to accommodate traffic as well as mass transit, pedestrian and bicycle use? Will congestion be mitigated? Will the network of highways and bridges be suitable - and safe?

These are the issues being addressed daily by the Memphis Urban Area Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO), which is in the midst of overhauling its short-term and long-term transportation plans.

And MPO coordinator Martha Lott wants citizens to review these plans before the group's Transportation Policy Board meets Aug. 30 to consider the dozens of proposed improvements on the board.

"These are the projects for the next four years that we are going to get under way in either preliminary engineering, right-of-way or construction," Lott said. "Before adopting any plans, we will open it to the public for additional comment."

For all eyes

Documents will be available at Shelby, DeSoto and Fayette county libraries beginning Friday for a 10-day review and comment period. Also, public workshops will be held Tuesday at Hickory Hill Community Center and the Whitehaven Branch Library, and Thursday at Southaven City Hall and Bartlett Station Municipal Center.

Feedback is welcome on all plans, which also are available online by visiting and clicking on the tab "Memphis MPO Plans Comment Period." Here, residents can view a draft of the MPO's Transportation Improvement Program (TIP) 2008-2011, which details each of the pending projects.

MPO Long-Range Transportation Plan Public Workshops
Hickory Hill Community Center
3910 Ridgeway Road
6 p.m. to 7 p.m.

Whitehaven Library
4120 Millbranch Road
6:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.

Southaven City Hall
8710 Northwest Drive
6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.

Bartlett Station Municipal Center
5868 Stage Road
6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.

The report doubles as an update of the MPO's "2026 Long-Range Transportation Plan" and also as a foundation for the organization's coming plan for the year 2030, taking Memphis' transportation issues even further into the future with interstates 69 and 269 and a third bridge spanning the Mississippi River.

MPO works with the Tennessee and Mississippi departments of transportation, as well as municipalities in Shelby, DeSoto and Fayette counties on all of its TIP projects, which are ranked and given priority.

"What we use for our criteria to rank all the projects once they are submitted is safety issues, level of congestion, how it affects our air quality, the land-use impact and the socio-economic impact, whether we are continuing the traffic network and the flow of traffic and any environmental issues," Lott said.

Many lanes ahead

Two of the largest-scale projects in this newest TIP are the $7.2 million construction of two sections of Veterans Parkway in Millington and the $22.6 million extension of Wolf River Boulevard in Germantown.

Veterans Parkway South will be a five-lane road that runs from Raleigh-Millington Road to Navy Road and will include a bridge. Veterans Parkway West, also a five-lane road, will run from Dakar to Creek Mill Cove and West Union, and will include bridges over a creek and a rail line.

Wolf River Boulevard will extend from Kimbrough Road to Farmington Road, alongside the Wolf River. The extension comes as Germantown works to implement its Smart Growth plan and reduce congestion along Germantown Parkway and Poplar Avenue.

"That will take some of the pressure off traffic through the central part of city," said Mike Palazzolo, Germantown alderman and the bank president at Germantown's Landmark Community Bank.

Other notable improvements, in conjunction with the Tennessee Department of Transportation, include the $38.5 million widening (six lanes to eight) of Interstate 240 from I-55 to I-40; the $76.5 million widening (four lanes to six) of I-40 from Collierville-Arlington Road to U.S. 64; and the $31.85 million construction of a new I-40 and I-240 interchange in East Memphis.

Additionally, a $35 million construction project is slated to begin in 2009 on Kirby-Whitten Road from Egypt-Central Road to New Brownsville Road, and from Walnut Grove Road across Shelby Farms to Macon Road.

Expansion considerations

MPO also is considering commercial use - namely the thousands of freight containers coming through Memphis each day - in all its projects.

One concern is how roads will complement local rail yards and facilitate the area's growing intermodal industry.

Dr. Martin Lipinski, a University of Memphis civil engineering professor and head of two transportation centers at the school, is working with MPO leaders to address such concerns as BNSF Railway Co.'s expansion of its intermodal yard at Shelby Drive and Lamar Avenue.

"If they triple the number of containers they're putting through there, what do we need to do on Lamar?" Lipinski said. "What kinds of improvements do we need to make to the infrastructure? How do we tie infrastructure improvements that will go that last mile, say, between the rail terminal and the truck terminal? These are some of the freight issues."

Another is construction of that third Mississippi River bridge, a process Lott said is underway.

"We're actually seeking funding now to take it to the environmental impact assessment so we can look at narrowing it down even further," she said.