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VOL. 125 | NO. 121 | Wednesday, June 23, 2010


  

I-240-Airways Project Stymied by Old Info

By Eric Smith

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The aerotropolis initiative’s transportation work group has recommended reexamining the Interstate 240-Airways Boulevard interchange modification study after finding flaws in the study, most of which arose from the length of time it took to research the area.

Jim Covington, vice president of logistics and aerotropolis development for the Greater Memphis Chamber, said parts of the study, completed in August by Clinard Engineering Associates LLC of Brentwood, Tenn., were obsolete.

“As the study progressed, they didn’t go back and keep searching for things that were changing,” Covington said. “It’s a little dated. Even though it’s got an August 2009 date on it, there’s older data in it.”

The purpose of the study, according to the final document, is to “evaluate the existing interchange at Interstate 240 and Airways Boulevard, and to request the approval for modifications of this interchange to improve both operation and safety. Benefits of this project include reduced congestion, reduced conflict points and improved access to and from the Memphis International Airport and the surrounding roadway network.”

The Tennessee Department of Transportation will use the study to redesign the 240-Airways interchange, one of the key entry and exit points for Memphis International Airport. The early cost estimate for the project was around $35 million.

Before the study goes to TDOT for the next stage of design and the construction, the Memphis Metropolitan Planning Organization can pinpoint specific areas that need to be readdressed in a revised study.

“They’ll determine whether there’s enough there to warrant opening it up again or reviewing it,” Covington said.

Specific examples of old or missing data in the study include insufficient westbound traffic movements from the airport as well as the airport’s forthcoming ground transportation center being in the wrong place in the study’s maps.

Also, the study didn’t take into account the proposed Nonconnah Creek greenbelt, the Plough Boulevard-Winchester Road interchange improvements or the overall aerotropolis initiative, which focuses on the airport as the region’s main economic engine.

Julie Ellis, an attorney with Butler, Snow, O’Mara, Stevens & Cannada PLLC who chairs the aerotropolis transportation work group, said it is important for the study to properly address connectivity at the interchange.

As it stands, the study recommends a “single-point interchange,” like what is found at Tenn. 385 and Kirby Parkway. That makes Airways a “minor road” and defeats the aerotropolis initiative’s ideal of prioritizing access into and out of the airport.

“If this aerotropolis effort is going to grow our economic development, you’re going to have more people coming and leaving this airport, and an entrance that acknowledges that is what we want to build and see,” Ellis said at a transportation work group meeting earlier this month.

The big issue now is how much a reexamination will delay the interchange process, already a lengthy and tedious one with many more hurdles to clear before anything gets resolved.

“There’s a long road before we get to construction,” Covington said. “There’s questions about whether it will have to go to environmental impact study again. There are a lot of steps.”

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