Road Projects to Up Megasite’s Presence

By Bill Dries

When state and local leaders formally opened the West Tennessee Solar Farm in Haywood County earlier this month, Tennessee Transportation Commissioner John Schroer had one of the biggest applause lines of the day.

West Tennessee Solar Farm, Haywood County

(Daily News File Photo: Lance Murphey)

“We just rolled out our three-year building program today,” he said as he announced the highly anticipated short list of 96 road projects costing $1.5 billion over the next three fiscal years including reconstruction of the Interstate 40 interchange near the solar farm and the nearby megasite still awaiting an industrial tenant.

“We also as part of that will expand that road through the megasite,” Schroer said of the construction that will begin westbound on the interstate. “We’re excited about that. I think it will bring a lot of jobs to Tennessee and this area, which I know is definitely needed. … There’s no way to get here at the moment.”

One of those applauding with the most vigor was Haywood County Mayor Franklin Smith who has been pushing for development of the last of the state’s three megasites.

“To begin with it will be just westbound only, like a rest area. You just pull on to see what you want to see and go right back on the interstate,” Smith said of the construction work to begin in September and is aimed at piquing the curiosity about the solar panels visible from Interstate 40. “Hopefully at some point in time it will be a full-fledged exit.”

With the exit and a more direct way to what is now called the Memphis Regional Megasite as well as the solar farm, Smith says talks with several prospects should become more concrete.

“We’ve still got a little ways to go for the infrastructure,” he said.

The Tennessee Department of Transportation’s three-year work program includes 14.1 miles of roadwork in Shelby County, from paving to right-of-way acquisition to construction.

In fiscal year 2013, which begins later this calendar year, state transportation officials have slated construction work to begin on the I-40 interchange at Canada Road in Lakeland. And the state will begin right-of-way acquisition at Interstate 55 and Crump Boulevard south of Downtown.

The right-of-way acquisition is the first part of a process of changing the complex intersection into a traffic roundabout that will open up the French Fort area south of Crump bordering the Mississippi River bluff to development.

Construction of the roundabout is considered crucial to plans that are to link up with development of a pedestrian and bicycle boardwalk on the north side of the Harahan rail bridge across the Mississippi River.

Preliminary engineering work is to begin next fiscal year on the I-240 interchange at Airways Boulevard.

A total of 7.3 miles of Tenn. 385 at the Shelby-Fayette County line is also slated for paving in fiscal year 2013. The section runs from north of Tenn. 57 in Fayette County to south of Macon Road.

And construction work would begin with the new fiscal year on just less than a mile of Germantown Road between Crestridge Road and Stout Road.

Right-of-way acquisition would begin in fiscal year 2014 for the section of Lamar Avenue from the Mississippi state line to just south of Shelby Drive. Lamar is the city’s major freight corridor and also the city’s most congested major thoroughfare.

Elvis Presley Boulevard from Craft Road to Winchester Road is in the third year of the plan for right-of-way acquisition. The state funding is an essential part of plans to change the streetscape of the state highway between Shelby Drive and Brooks Road including the area around Graceland.

Memphis Mayor A C Wharton Jr.’s administration is waiting to hear if the city has won a competition for federal funding that is also part of the proposed facelift for the commercial district along the thoroughfare.