Design work on the “Main to Main Connector” project is at the halfway point. And the city team overseeing the project is due to complete plans by the end of May to trigger a $15 million appropriation of federal funding in June.
The Main Street Mall would include a 3/4-mile continuous stretch that is handicap-accessible with the latest plans for the Main Street to Main Street Connector project. The project would mean some changes to the mall landscape.
(Daily News File Photo: Lance Murphey)
“The clock has been running but that obligation of those federal funds is the next big milestone that happens in June,” said Mike Carpenter, the city’s project manager for the five-phase project.
The $29.7 million project, funded primarily with a federal transportation grant, links Main Street Memphis to Broadway Avenue in West Memphis via a boardwalk for bicyclists and pedestrians on the north side of the Harahan Bridge across the Mississippi River.
Carpenter told a group of around 100 Monday, April 29, at a City Hall public hearing there are still some issues to be resolved.
But the plans so far show a Harahan Bridge boardwalk that is more expensive than the original estimate of approximately $12 million because the original steel structure on the bridge can no longer support the weight of a new surface and those who would use it.
“We’re still not at a hard number on it yet,” Carpenter said after the session. “It’s going to go up some because of the new steel. It’s one of those things that until we physically inspected it, we didn’t know if it was safe or not. It turned out it wasn’t safe to just lay the boardwalk over it so we’re going to have to replace it.”
In recent months, Carpenter and Memphis Mayor A C Wharton Jr. have been emphasizing the improvements the project would mean for Main Street Memphis from Uptown to South Main.
“It’s a critically important process for us,” Wharton said as he noted that critics remain of the pedestrian mall section of Main Street who advocate for a return of cars and other auto traffic.
“We must make the absolute best of what we have and make it distinctly Memphis,” Wharton said.
Harry Pratt of Allen & Hoshall described a set of significant changes to Main Street including the mall even as it remains off limits to motorized traffic.
One goal is to create an uninterrupted three-fourths of a mile path on the mall that meets standards of the federal Americans with Disabilities Act. That doesn’t exist now with the continuous path for the disabled disrupted by trolley tracks, uneven pavement, patios and even recent curb and corner slopes that still don’t meet the standards.
Carpenter said that could mean some changes for mall businesses with a patio presence.
“I think this could potentially force some more uniformity,” he said. “We want more patios. We think patios are good especially along Main Street and so we want to encourage folks to do that. … Once we lay out this ADA path, it will create some conformity. … You won’t be able to infringe on the ADA path.”
Carpenter also told some business owners concerned about the cost of new sidewalks that the move to new sidewalks will mean they will have to pay.
There were also questions about how much disruption the South Main segment construction would mean to the festivals and other events that are a key part of the area’s resurgence.
“We’re going to have a lot of coordination to do with business owners to make sure we minimize the inconvenience,” Carpenter said. “It will be worth it in the end. But we certainly don’t want to put folks in an awkward situation of running off their business or their festivals or whatever else.”
The South Main segment from Peabody Place to Carolina Avenue – the whole of the South Main Historic Arts District – would start in January as the renovation of the old Chisca hotel, in a separate project, is also underway.
The bridge boardwalk would be the first part of the plan with construction beginning in September. But the other parts follow quickly and will be underway as the boardwalk is being built.
In order to bring the project in on time and on budget, the bridge boardwalk’s width is also being studied.
Some at the hearing advocated for a 12-foot wide boardwalk to comfortably accommodate all.
“It’s put us in a budget crunch,” Carpenter said as he acknowledged the tentative plans still include a 10-foot width. “We haven’t given up on 12.”