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VOL. 126 | NO. 94 | Friday, May 13, 2011

Flood Disruptions Minor for Cargo

By Bill Dries

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For a local economy built on a cornerstone of transportation and logistics, this week’s historic crest of the Mississippi River at Memphis could have been much worse.

As the waters begin to slowly recede, the companies that move goods through Memphis will continue to do what they did as the waters rose – keep ready the alternate routes worked out well in advance.

In some cases, the alternate routes may be in use even after the Mississippi River and its tributaries return to their banks. The flood is expected to leave behind major damage to the transportation infrastructure that will take time and money to replace.

But the interstate system within Memphis and immediately around the city was spared even if drivers still have some up-close views of the river’s tributaries.

More than 20 miles of Interstate 40 in Arkansas was shut down for a few days, forcing trucks and other traffic on long – and somewhat costly – detours.

“It put us out of some route miles either going on Highway 64 or up through Highway 14. Everything else was pretty much open,” said Bill Marshall, Memphis terminal manager for ABF Freight Systems. “We just took another route around it. It will add some bottom line expense to it. But as far as holding the freight up to where it was of a critical nature – no. We were able to get it through to Little Rock. But it’s nice to have it open again, I can assure you.”

Other freight was routed around Memphis entirely. And Marshall said traffic on the alternate routes was lighter, which helped make up some time.

The major traffic corridor away from the interstate system that was affected was U.S. 51 where its intersection with North Watkins Street was flooded even before the Mississippi River crested.

Shelby County public works crews tried several times unsuccessfully to drain or divert water from the intersection on a route with heavy northbound-southbound truck traffic.

The traffic was diverted to Tenn. 385 and Austin Peay Highway.

Memphis International Airport, the world’s second busiest cargo airport and hub for Delta Air Lines Inc., was unaffected by the flood.

The only Memphis Light, Gas and Water Division substation potentially at risk as the river neared its crest was the one that supplied power to FedEx operations at the airport.

And back-up generators were ready for use if there was flooding at the substation.

The BNSF Railway Co. Tennessee Yard at Lamar Avenue and East Shelby Drive is on the city’s major freight corridor.

BNSF’s problems were all well north of Memphis and the region. The only note to customers in the Mid-South region was about a floodgate still being closed at Cape Girardeau, Mo.

Several other points on the rail system in Missouri had been closed before the river crested. But those points showed as being open again to traffic this week.

PROPERTY SALES 124 481 17,865
MORTGAGES 127 530 20,565
BUILDING PERMITS 195 891 36,836
BANKRUPTCIES 52 262 11,426