Drivers have to head downtown to cross either of the two interstate highway bridges over the Mississippi River. But if and when a third bridge is constructed, it may offer an alternative crossing in northern Shelby County or northern Mississippi.
Those are two of seven possible locations for the proposed Southern Gateway project, a third bridge crossing the Mississippi River into Arkansas. The options were revealed last week at a public meeting to gain input from drivers on the preferred placement of a new bridge.
"In order to be competitive in a global market, we need to be able to remedy congestion," said Steve Chipman, Tennessee Department of Transportation (TDOT) project manager.
The plans — jointly developed by TDOT, the Arkansas State Highway and Transportation Department, the Mississippi Department of Transportation, the Memphis and West Memphis Metropolitan Planning Organizations, and the Federal Highway Administration — offer seven two-mile-wide corridors where a new earthquake-proof bridge and connecting highway could be built.
One suggestion simply involves modifying or rebuilding the existing I-55 bridge.
"You'd have to look at how you could handle traffic on the existing bridge and the cost to upgrade it to existing codes and seismic standards," Chipman said.
One new location option would bypass Memphis by attaching the new bridge to I-69 in Tunica County, Mississippi, heading north to connect with I-40 on the Arkansas side. Another option adds a new highway connecting to I-22 near the Tennessee-Mississippi state line, leading over the river, and onto I-40.
Yet another option would connect to Highway 385 near Millington and cross the river near the Tipton County line, eventually connecting to I-55 in Turrell, Arkansas.
Two other options include connecting the bridge to new roadway added to I-240 in Memphis. Another would add a new roadway and a bridge connecting to Highway 51 near Frayser.
Once planners identify the top three locations, they will conduct environmental impact studies on each. A final location will be chosen by 2015, but Chipman said it's too early to predict when construction will be completed.
Besides public input on location, Chipman said planners are also seeking input on whether to include rail or bicycle and pedestrian facilities.
"We know bike lanes and pedestrian walkways could be one of the things the stakeholders show a need for," Chipman said. "That's why it's important to get input from certain users so we make the best choices for the area."
Two more public meetings are left in the six-meeting series: Memphis Area Transit Authority board room (545 S. Main) on Monday, April 4th, and Bishop Byrne High School (1475 E. Shelby Dr.) on Tuesday, April 5th. Both drop-in style meetings run from 4 to 7 p.m.