Editorial: Make Roads Work for Our Communities

Saturday, December 21, 2013, Vol. 6, No. 52

Where roads are built, development follows.

Sometimes the roads are built in anticipation of development. Sometimes they are built to spur development.

It is fair at times to question which comes first.

Either way, that development can and should take many forms that work for the communities as well as the businesses near the new paved surfaces, interchanges, flyover ramps and other infrastructure.

The process for road projects still takes entirely too long. Years elapse between hearings and in that time the conditions around the proposed road are almost guaranteed to change substantially.

The best example of that is the Shelby Farms Parkway, which has been in the public hearing phase for about 30 years.

Since the extension of Kirby Parkway became a state road project, Shelby Farms Park, a major urban park, has been more fully developed and used as a park than many could have imagined.

Some backers of the park and its expansion question whether the extension should be pursued.

The improvements to Lamar Avenue, the city’s major freight corridor, have languished for too long to the point that it has become a big enough problem to become a factor in the growth of distribution centers and warehouses south of the state line with Mississippi and beyond.

While much of the impact of these road projects is about the movement of goods in and out and through Memphis, that is not the case with at least one that is still in the planning stage.

The now roundabout Interstate 55 interchange just east of the Memphis-Arkansas bridge will allow for more than one lane of access to Interstate 40. But the roundabout will also make possible better access to the French Fort neighborhood and, with it, the Harahan Rail Bridge boardwalk for pedestrians and bicycles.

Construction is expected to begin in the spring on the I-40/Canada Road interchange in Lakeland.

And close behind the roadwork will be Gilad Development’s plan for a new Lakeland Grand Outlets Mall where the old Lakeland Outlet Mall now stands unused.

At year’s end, Lakeland’s local leaders were assembling an incentive package to support the mall project which would have the kind of interchange that is now almost required for any kind of new retail development.

With some of the roads that are coming off the drawing board and into reality come shifts in retail as well as populations.

That’s why it is even more essential for public planning at the local level that takes into account life for those communities as well.

Where these roads go is important. Just as important is the communities these roads go through on their way to their destination.