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VOL. 132 | NO. 88 | Wednesday, May 3, 2017

IMPROVE Act Addresses Backlogged Shelby County Projects

By Patrick Lantrip

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Billed as a “once-in-a-generation” opportunity to increase state funding to address a backlog of roadway improvement projects in Tennessee, the recently passed IMPROVE Act is one of Gov. Bill Haslam’s signature pieces of legislation.

The transportation plan, which includes the state’s first gas tax hike in 30 years, looks to use the additional funding to tackle nearly 1,000 road and bridge projects across every county in Tennessee.

The new gas tax will result in an average increase of a little more than $4 per month for every road user in Tennessee and is primarily offset by grocery and manufacturing tax cuts.

While the Tennessee Department of Transportation will distribute the funds across the state, there are 20 major projects in Shelby County that TDOT has committed to, but not funded, totaling roughly $583 million.

With the IMPROVE Act now state law, long-awaited and expensive road projects in Shelby County are in line to get funded, like the re-creation of intersections on Lamar Avenue that will reduce congestion. 

(Daily News File/Andrew J. Breig)

At the top of the local list is a much-needed proposed upgrade to Lamar Avenue from south of Shelby Drive to the Raines Road/Perkins Road interchange, which carries a price tag of $125.3 million. In fact, improvements to the often-bottlenecked Lamar account for five of the 20 projects, with a total cost of $252 million.

“As a distribution hub and one of the great transportation centers of the United States, we are dependent on our infrastructure,” said Reid Dulberger, president and CEO of the Economic Development Growth Engine for Memphis and Shelby County. “Lamar Avenue is the primary road infrastructure need from an economic development perspective. It is the backbone of a massive freight distribution network, and it is a backbone that is stretched at this point and handling way more traffic than it was designed to handle.”

Even with the additional funding, Dulberger added, it will still take a while to solve the Lamar Avenue puzzle, but the knowledge that improvements are on the way will go a long way in terms of courting new businesses to Shelby County.

In addition to the TDOT backlog, the Shelby County Roads, Bridges, and Engineering Department is looking to use additional IMPROVE Act funding to address a backlog of its own.

“The big benefit for us is going to be the ability to increase the amount of paving we’re doing,” said county engineering administrator Darren Sanders. “Currently we fall into somewhere around a 30- to 50-year paving cycle, which just isn’t sustainable.”

For reference, Sanders said a 15- to 20-year cycle is ideal.

As a result of a lack of funding, Shelby County currently has a roughly 200-mile road-paving backlog, which represents about a quarter of the county’s 800 miles of roadways.

“With this additional funding, the county is going to receive about $3 million over the next three years,” Sanders said. “And the primary use for right now is to catch up paving.”

According to Sanders, since it costs about $50,000 per lane for each mile of paving, it would take about $20 million to completely address the backlog. He hopes funding from the IMPROVE Act and additional revenue from the Shelby County Commission can get his department back on a 15- to 20-year cycle in the next five years.

“This funding is going to be critical when it comes to addressing the paving needs of the county,” he said.

Shelby County Projects Included in the IMPROVE Act

1. $125.3 million: Lamar Avenue from south of Shelby Drive to Raines/Perkins Road interchange

2. $81.4 million: Lamar Avenue from Raines Road/Perkins Road interchange to Getwell Road

3. $51 million: Interstate 240 from I-55 to I-40 near Midtown

4. $47 million: I-40 from Germantown Road to one mile east of Canada Road

5. $42 million: Lamar Avenue from Mississippi state line to south of Shelby Avenue

6. $42 million: I-240 interchange at Airways Boulevard

7. $40 million: I-40 from one mile east of Canada Road to Collierville-Arlington Road: $40 million

8. $35.4 million: Summer Avenue from north of Sycamore View Road to north of Elmore Road

9. $28.3 million: Summer Avenue from I-40 to north of Sycamore View Road

10. $20 million: Austin Peay Highway from east of Kerrville-Rosemark Road to Tipton County line

11. $20 million: Austin Peay Highway from Paul Barrett Parkway to east of Kerrville-Rosemark Road

12. $15.5 million: Elvis Presley Boulevard from Craft Road to Shelby Drive

13. $9 million: I-269 expansion from I-40 to Mississippi state line

14. $6.6 million: Thomas Street bridge over overflow

15. $4 million: Tenn. 385 expansion between mile markers 7 and 15

16. $3.6 million: Thomas Street bridge over CNIC railroad

17. $3.4 million: Lamar Avenue bridge over ramps from I-240 and Tenn. Route 4 (Lamar)

18. $3.2 million: Jackson Avenue bridge over Harrison Creek

19. $2.7 million: U.S. 70/79 bridge over Clear Creek

20. $2.1 million: Poplar Avenue bridge over Cypress Creek

PROPERTY SALES 57 280 1,209
MORTGAGES 55 244 916
BUILDING PERMITS 158 699 2,751