by Toby Sells
The project to build a road through Shelby Farms Park was delayed for one year by the Memphis City Council Tuesday as many council members questioned why the city was paying for a project through a Shelby-County-owned park.
The $30 million project would build a new north-south road through the park and alleviate what some consider to be traffic problems around the park.
Memphis would have contributed $6 million to the project, spread over several years. That local money would have triggered federal funds to pay for 80 percent of the overall project.
City engineer John Cameron said the county would participate in the project with in-kind services but would not put any money in it. The road would be a city roadway, he said, making it the responsibility of the city. Shelby Farms Park is in the Memphis city limits but the park itself is owned by Shelby County.
Council member Wanda Halbert said the city is in “dire” financial straits and the roadway should not be a city priority.
“We keep accepting responsibility for things we cannot afford,” Halbert said.
Council member Reid Hedgepeth motioned to table the project for one year. Cameron said the Tennessee Department of Transportation [TDOT] (which would be the funnel for the federal funds) is eager to see the project get underway and if the project isn’t started this year, it may be cancelled completely.
Laura Adams, executive director of the Shelby Farms Park Conservancy, told council members they she backed the road project, noting it would bring better entrances to the park, new trails, and would alleviate traffic on the park-owned Farm Road, the only north-south roadway through the park.
“TDOT has told us if the project does not move forward today, it would never move forward and that the 80 percent federal funding will never again be available to help the city,” she said. “If we don’t do this, we will never allow Farm Road to be widened.”
Council member Kemp Conrad requested documentation from TDOT proving the state agency’s threat to remove the funding for the project. He said many urgent projects come before the council recently, noting the quick action demanded for the city’s purchase of AutoZone Park.
Cameron said he’d get the council member his correspondence with TDOT officials.
In the meantime, the project is off the table. However, council member Myron Lowery requested a letter from the council be sent to TDOT officials telling them why the vote was delayed and that the council does not want to lose the federal funding for the project.