Filled with potholes and leaning utility poles, Elvis Presley Boulevard isn't as inviting to residents and tourists as it was decades ago, when the street's namesake was alive.
The city's engineering office revealed a plan to redevelop Elvis Presley Blvd. at the first of three public meetings last week at Middle Baptist Church in Whitehaven.
The Elvis Presley Boulevard Improvements Project is intended to support the area's economic development, address its safety and roadway issues, and enhance travel and tourism within the district.
The boulevard is a center of commercial activity and employment for the Whitehaven community. It links tourists to Graceland and locals to large employers such as Smith & Nephew and Methodist Hospital South.
Improvements will be made to nearly three miles of the street over three phases: Brooks to Winchester, Winchester to Craft, and Craft to Shelby Drive. Seven additional lanes will be added from Brooks to Craft and five from Craft to Shelby Drive.
Deputy city engineer John Cameron said the area's roads would be repaved, sidewalks would be improved, and area facilities would be made ADA-compliant. However, the project does not allow for designated bike lanes along Elvis Presley.
"The minimal right-of-way option does not provide sufficient width for striped bike lanes," Cameron said.
Cameron said the width of outside lanes would be expanded to best allow bicycles and motor vehicles to share the roadway. He also said most of the overhead utilities along Elvis Presley would be removed. Power to homes and businesses along Elvis Presley would be fed by a combination of underground lines and utilities located on cross streets.
More than 100 people — mostly Whitehaven residents — attended the meeting to hear about the planned improvements. City councilmen Harold Collins and Edmund Ford Jr. were also in attendance.
Longtime Whitehaven resident Harry Moore said he hopes the project will not only improve Elvis Presley but the community as a whole.
"The only things we have on Elvis Presley are gas stations and chicken [restaurants]," Moore said. "We need something different. The conditions of the road and the area need improvement."
Another attendee, Judge Booker, said he's witnessed Whitehaven decline since moving there 14 years ago.
"If they do what they say they're going to do, I think it will make a difference and make more people want to visit and live in the area," Booker said. "It's not what it should be or is supposed to be. It'll be better with the improvements."
The Tennessee Department of Transportation will provide $27 million toward the $43 million project, and the city will provide the remaining $16 million.
The first stage of the project kicks off in November and includes upgrading traffic signals and landscaping at the intersection of Brooks and Elvis Presley.
Collins, who represents the Whitehaven district, said the project makes him feel "like a kid, and Christmas Eve is a few weeks away."
"We need your participation because this is our community. This will be our street," Collins said. "We want to be proud of the finished product when it's completed, so we can enjoy the amenities that we've all waited for for over 25 years. When it comes, we can say that we had a part in it."
The next scheduled public meeting is in April. The date has not yet been set.