TDOT plans that would require I-55 bridge shutdown on the table again
After no news for more than two years, the Tennessee Department of Transportation’s planned Crump Boulevard and Interstate 55 interchange overhaul is back on the schedule.
The project, one that would completely shut down the Memphis-Arkansas Bridge (the “Old Bridge”) for 18 months or restrict travel to one lane each way for passenger vehicles for as long as three years, was re-slated on the updated Memphis Metropolitan Planning Organization Transportation Improvement Plan for 2020 when the board met earlier this week.
The projected $73 million project had been put on hold after backlash from west side of the river over the project caused TDOT to put the brakes on their plans. The argument was made that the work would force all trucking and most passenger traffic onto Interstate 40 Hernando DeSoto Bridge. A complete bridge closure, even in the optimistic nine-month timeframe, would add time and travel expenses to local businesses, and is seen as a discouragement for tourists bound for Arkansas, particularly Southland Casino Racing, who recently began work on a $240 million expansion. The detour on the Memphis Midtown Interstate 240 would add 12 miles on the round trip.
When complete, the new Southland casino and hotel expansion is expected to daily draw 20,000 tourists to West Memphis daily, but the planned I-55 construction work could severely curtail those numbers — as well as the anticipated revenue from visitors.
West Memphis MPO Study Director Eddie Brawley said his office has stayed abreast of the Memphis MPO’s plans since the project was tabled. During the last meeting, Brawley heard the I-55/Crump proj- ect had been scheduled for next year on the Memphis MPO’s Transportation Improvement
“We go to their meetings to stay coordinated,” said Brawley. “But it’s TDOT that runs the show on interstate projects like this. It’s on the 2020 TIP. The fiscal year starts this October.”
Brawley didn’t think that Interstate traffic restrictions and constructions would start in the fall.
“There are several things that have to happen first,” said Brawley. “The have to let it out for bid and that takes several months. I’d hope they’d have another round of public hearings.
including some here.”
Brawley harbored some other hopes. An Arkansas contractor has proposed a Crump Boulevard interchange plan that would save $50 million. Brawley ran it to the top of TDOT, but so far the alternative proposal has been ignored.
“If they’d save that money, they could put it toward the study of a third bridge, but its not even on their long-range plan through 2050,” said Brawley.
The West Memphis study director also hoped to hear about improvements to the Old Bridge.
“I would think there’d be some,” said Brawley.
“They are doing maintenance on it right now. I think they pretty well have it studied and know what it needs. It would be an ideal
time to complete all that.”