VOL. 131 | NO. 124 | Wednesday, June 22, 2016
State Applies for $180 Million Lamar Avenue Federal Grant
By Bill Dries
The Lamar Avenue road project waiting for years to get started could be about to emerge from the planning stage to construction.
And if the state gets a $180 million federal grant in August, it could compress the timeline from a decade-long project to four or five years of construction. The state is currently acquiring rights of way.
State and local leaders gathered in the heart of the busy freight corridor Tuesday, June 21, to announce the state’s only application for a federal Fastlane grant will be $180 million for Lamar Avenue between Getwell and the Mississippi state line.
The Fastlane grants are aimed at road projects that have a regional impact and that affect the freight and logistics industries.
The improvements between Getwell and the Mississippi state line are planned to ease congestion along the city’s major freight corridor.
The changes include redesigning three conventional intersections to make them interchanges to better handle the truck traffic in the area.
“We don’t have the money yet,” said Tennessee Transportation Commissioner John Schroer on the parking lot of the BNSF Railway intermodal terminal as trucks rumbled by behind him on Lamar Avenue.
“It’s going to be tough,” he added citing the $800 million pool of money to be awarded in August and 146 applications from across the country with requests totaling $9 billion.
The terminal was a backdrop for Gov. Bill Haslam’s call last year for a review of the state’s funding of road projects including a possible state gas tax hike.
Since that appeal, Congress unexpectedly approved a five-year surface transportation bill at the federal level which gives states a stable flow of funding for road projects.
The Lamar project’s cost totals $300 million.
Large projects applying for the Fastlane grants could get as much as $100 million or a statutory percentage of federal funding for such projects in a state's budget, whichever is less.
Schroer said the state is making only one grant application in the hopes it will improve the chances of funding for the Lamar project. He said there has also been some support from elected leaders in Arkansas and Mississippi who recognize the importance of the corridor to freight moving through their states.
State Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris of Collierville said the project and the grant are the state’s top infrastructure priorities.
“This is one of the most significant five mile stretches of road in the U.S.,” he said.