Shelby Farms Parkway Hearings Continue

By Bill Dries

Tennessee transportation officials return Tuesday, Sept. 24, to the topic of a parkway through Shelby Farms Park.

The public hearing at Agricenter International, 7777 Walnut Grove Road, at 5 p.m. is the latest in a long series of hearings and meetings on the controversial road, most of them with different technical purposes.

The meeting Tuesday is to “give notice of the Federal Highway Administration’s intent to file a Determination of Section 4(f) de minimis use related minor project impacts to the Shelby Farms Park,” according to the formal notice of the hearing.

De minimis is a Latin term meaning "about minimal things."

Proposed Kirby Parkway Vicinity Map

The project’s formal name is the “Kirby Parkway project” because it is an extension of Kirby Parkway. But supporters and critics, and those in between, also refer to the project as the Shelby Farms Parkway.

Among the critics is the Chickasaw Group of the Sierra Club, the Memphis chapter of the environmental group.

Dennis Lynch, state chairman of the Tennessee chapter and transportation committee chairman of the Chickasaw group, says the state’s plan isn’t “minimal” at all and takes up 128 acres of parkland.

“That’s more than three times the ‘de minimus’ amount that was used in any other roadway projects across the whole country,” Lynch said last week.

The Chickasaw Group is advocating handling the traffic with an enhanced Walnut Grove-Farm Roads intersection that would add auxiliary lanes to Walnut Grove.

When the idea surfaced at a Sierra Club hearing in August 2012, city engineer John Cameron said without a parkway, Walnut Grove at Farm Road would have to be the width of Walnut Grove to the west as it passes by Baptist Memorial Hospital and Christian Brothers High School.

“We don’t want to make it an area that people are going to avoid,” Cameron said at the time.

In its current proposed configuration, the parkway would begin where Walnut Grove crosses the Wolf River with an interchange north of what is now the part of Walnut Grove and land on both sides of the current road at about the old Shelby County landfill property.

The parkway would take a few turns north as Walnut Grove takes a more northward bend than its current trajectory before rejoining today’s alignment of the rest of Walnut Grove east of the Farm Road entrance into Shelby Farms Park.

The parkway first moves north through a wooded area before the north and south lanes are divided into the parkway configuration across parkland. On that land the proposed extension of Sycamore View Road would intersect with the Shelby Farms Parkway as Sycamore View joins up with Farm Road.

After the intersection with the proposed Sycamore View extension, the parkway then moves east gradually, skirting to the east of what is known as “Area 10” – the set of state and local government buildings including the Shelby County Corrections Center. From there it takes a sharper turn to the east to join Mullins Station Road.

What becomes Whitten Road on the northern side of Mullins Station then takes a straight north-south line through the residential area to join up with Macon Road.

The extension of the Shelby Farms Greenline, which runs parallel to Sycamore View at this point, would cross the extension of Whitten Road.

While the Sycamore View extension is on the latest state map of the proposed parkway, Shelby Farms Park Conservancy leaders have said one of the 10 guarantees they want to support the current proposal is that Sycamore View will not be extended through the park.

Conservancy executive director Laura Adams also will be at Tuesday’s hearing. At previous hearings she has said city, county and state leaders involved in the road project have asked the conservancy to agree to the plans for the parkway.

The conservancy asked for the guarantees as an acknowledgement that as the proposal has remained a proposal, the park has changed and grown in its uses and its attractions.

The first “draft environmental impact statement” on a general plan for a roadway through the park was issued 25 years ago.

The first public meeting in the Tennessee Department of Transportation files was in 1984 when Lamar Alexander was still serving his first term as governor and construction was just starting on the Agricenter building where Tuesday’s meeting will be held.

In 2002, during his first term as governor, Phil Bredesen put the parkway project on a priority list of 15 long-standing controversial road projects that had not made it out of the maze of hearings, impact statements and other studies. The Shelby Farms Parkway Advisory Team held eight team meetings between April 2005 and July 2008.

Meanwhile, the Tennessee Department of Transportation approved a plan in October 2007 after it held two public meetings in March and November of 2005. The department distinguishes those meetings from the last public hearing it held on the matter in December 2007.