by Tony Jones
City Councilman Harold Collins told several dozen Whitehaven residents at the Middle Baptist Church last Wednesday that plans to refurbish Elvis Presley Boulevard are on track and moving forward.
"We expect to start ground-breaking in November," he said, to vocal approval from the attendees.
After Loeb Properties were awarded $16.5 million to redevelop Overton Square, Collins successfully spurred the council to allocate $16 million to redo Elvis Presley Boulevard, keyed by the fact that it is the second-most-visited street in America after Pennsylvania Avenue, where the White House sits.
With a target completion date sometime in 2015, state and federal funding have kicked the project budget above $40 million. Intersection improvement, traffic lighting, and aesthetics are to be improved from Brooks Road to Shelby Drive, with the Graceland section as the focal point. The city's engineer's office will be the controlling point for the plan.
Created by the Powers Hill Design firm, three plans were unveiled at the public meeting. Designed to accommodate tourist interest and traffic flow, the lanes are to be widened, and could include a center median incorporating pedestrian and bicycle lanes.
Attendees at the meeting were given a survey to choose the option they preferred. A follow-up meeting is planned for June, with the final blueprint to be presented in July. Residents were also directed to the project website.
An alternate meeting is being planned for area business owners in May.
Two additional factors were discussed: the aerotropolis urban design plan underway, and the sensitivity of assuring some allocation of work to minority owned firms.
Collins explained, "We will be in discussion with the aerotropolis folks, but we're not linking this into that plan. As one of the main entry points to Whitehaven, as well as a destination point to the airport, we will of course keep informed because this is a crucial part of the overall vision, but just their planning process will take at least two years or more. We will be almost finished by then. Also, you cannot sit on government money that long. The need has been identified, the funding allocated, and we are moving forward.?"