Playing Bridge

"All roads lead to Memphis."



So says Tim Sorenson, senior project manager with Wilbur Smith Associates, the firm studying a possible new bridge across the Mississippi River.

"There are only two bridges [for vehicles] crossing the river, and they're both in close proximity to each other," Sorenson says. "What if you're not in the city, but you want to cross the river?"

Wilbur Smith is studying a 15-mile corridor, from Route 304

in Mississippi to the north Shelby County line, to decide where an additional bridge for rail and vehicular traffic could, and should, be placed. At two public Tennessee Department of Transportation (TDOT) meetings last week, the firm presented 13 possible routes.

The additional bridge would bring much-needed extra capacity to the region's transportation system, as well as alleviate fears about the effects of an earthquake. Currently, there are two rail bridges and two bridges for vehicles. Only one of the four existing bridges has been retrofitted to new earthquake standards.

Almost 2 million railroad cars travel over the river at Memphis each year.

"We have to be concerned with bridge failure and system closures, especially with the proximity of the two," says Sorenson. "If something were to happen to these bridges, there would be a significant disruption to, first, the local economy and then the national economy, given how much rail flows through this region."

Sorenson indicated that without another rail bridge, long-term growth could be stifled. The same could be said for an additional vehicular bridge. Trucking traffic is expected to double within the next 10 years.

"What's happening now is we have an overlap," says Sorenson. "We have regional truck traffic that has to all go through downtown Memphis. That's competing with local traffic and local people using the bridges on a regular basis. It's not the most efficient way to do it."

TDOT will hold additional public meetings at the beginning of the year to present which of the 13 routes were deemed most viable.

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