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VOL. 133 | NO. 113 | Wednesday, June 6, 2018

$71.2M Federal Grant Awarded for Long-Sought Lamar Avenue Upgrade

By Bill Dries

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A $71.2 million federal transportation grant announced Tuesday, June 5, for improvements to Lamar Avenue between Getwell and the Mississippi state line -- the city's major freight corridor -- has been sought by local business and civic leaders for several years. (Daily News/Andrew J. Breig)

A $71.2 million federal transportation grant announced Tuesday, June 5, in Washington, D.C., will fund long-planned and awaited infrastructure updates to the city’s major freight corridor.

Funding under the Infrastructure for Rebuilding America grant by the U.S. Department of Transportation goes for repairs and upgrades to Lamar Avenue from Getwell Avenue to the Mississippi state line.

Local and state leaders, as well as logistics and distribution industry leaders in the Memphis area, have sought the federal funding through several other programs in recent years. Two years ago this month, the state applied for a $180 million federal grant that would have gone exclusively to Lamar Avenue. Projected to take a decade to complete with just state funding, the large Fastlane federal grant would have made Lamar improvements a four- to five-year effort.

The bid for a Fastlane grant failed.

“I wish I had pompoms,” Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland said Tuesday of the new grant. Two-lane stretches and poor road conditions on such a busy industrial corridor as Lamar have negatively impacted trucking and logistics operations near Memphis International Airport for years, not to mention rail yards.

“It really opens up economic opportunities and a growth of jobs,” Strickland said, citing the BNSF intermodal facility at 4814 Lamar Ave. “It’s not operating at full capacity because the stuff they take off the rails and put on trucks on Lamar – it’s not fully functioning.”

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam has held several press conferences at the intermodal yard using the congested truck traffic as a backdrop for state calls for more federal funding.

"Right now, if you take Lamar Avenue, you're probably late to work," U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander said in a written statement. “The City of Memphis is vital to the nation’s ability to move goods – and more than 20 Fortune 500 companies, including FedEx and BNSF, along with 1,100 transportation, distribution, and logistics companies call Lamar Avenue home – but it is severely congested."

The funding will be used to overhaul interchanges in the corridor for trucks and widen Lamar. Additional state funding will be provided by the recent increase in the state gas tax proposed by Haslam called the IMPROVE Act, which was approved by the Tennessee Legislature.

“This is a huge win for Memphis and will be a game-changer for our city and the region,” U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen of Memphis said in a written statement. “This project has been a priority of the business and governmental communities for my entire time in Congress.”

U.S. Rep. David Kustoff of Germantown said Lamar is “a critical freight corridor for the entire region and has been a priority of mine since Day One.”

Greater Memphis Chamber president and CEO Phil Trenary, who hosted discussions with Haslam at which local distribution and logistics industry leaders called for a hike in the gas tax to fund Lamar and other road projects, said the funding bolsters economic development efforts.

“The Lamar Avenue improvement will create thousands of new jobs and significantly reduce unemployment and poverty in the region,” he said in a written statement.

PROPERTY SALES 97 418 8,253
MORTGAGES 112 508 9,293
BUILDING PERMITS 194 1,059 18,126
BANKRUPTCIES 46 208 5,367