In the late '90s, Shelby Farms Park enthusiasts began slapping "Don't Split Shelby Farms" bumper stickers on their cars to express opposition to a planned road project through the park that had been in the works since the 1970s. Now that road project is back on the drawing board.
The city of Memphis, along with the Federal Highway Administration and the Tennessee Department of Transportation (TDOT), is closer to finalizing plans for a 2.5-mile parkway through Shelby Farms Park from Walnut Grove to the intersection of Whitten and Macon.
In the current proposal, Kirby Parkway's design was cut down to four lanes, rather than six, and the speed limit will be 40 mph instead of 60 mph. The updated design, which will take out 116 acres of Shelby Farms (from 283 acres in the original plan), no longer features a straight pathway: The proposal now curves through the park with a trumpet configuration. Bike lanes and sidewalks run along the length of the parkway to preserve the connection between Shelby Farms and the Greenline.
In a disposition released in August, TDOT responded to citizens' comments from a determination hearing in May last year to see if Section 4(f) applies to Kirby Parkway.
Section 4(f) is part of the Department of Transportation Act of 1966, which specified that the Federal Highway Administration, along with state departments of transportation, cannot approve projects involving publicly owned parks, recreational areas, wildlife, and waterfowl refuges unless there is no "feasible and prudent alternative" to the use of land as well as extensive planning to ensure minimal harm is done to the property.
Laura Adams, executive director of the Shelby Farms Park Conservancy, said top priority for the organization is making sure the recreational areas and environmental resources are protected.
"We are pro-park," Adams said. "The city, county, and TDOT are working with us to protect everything we hold dear."
City engineer John Cameron said, if approved, the parkway would replace the heavily utilized Farm Road, cutting down travel time that takes anywhere from 30 to 45 minutes in the morning and afternoon.
"Right now, there's really bad traffic in that area," he said. "If we don't do something, that will extend to an hour. The problem is these times coincide when people use the park."
The Sierra Club Chickasaw Group has announced its opposition to the project's revision. Dennis Lynch, Sierra Club transportation chair, said TDOT hasn't gone far enough to protect the park while using inaccurate traffic counts to justify the project.
"We're not saying don't build it. We're just saying don't build it right now. Look at the new information," Lynch said. "Capacity [at Farm and Walnut Grove] is nowhere near what it could be."
Lynch, who has a background in civil engineering, said the discussion would be different if traffic were growing.
"When finances are tight, if this road is showing it isn't needed, let's take a little more time and look at things a little closer," he said.
The city and county organized a public hearing at Agricenter International earlier this week, but until October 15th, anyone who wishes to contact TDOT regarding Kirby Parkway can email comments to TDOT.email@example.com or mail written statements to the Department of Transportation, Attn: Kirby Parkway, Shelby County, Suite 700, James K. Polk Building, 505 Deaderick Street, Nashville, TN 37243-0332.