I-55 Bridge Project Gets Detour By Tennessee Officials

by Michael Wilkey ([email protected]) 227 views 

A plan to close the I-55 bridge at Memphis for nine months in 2017 will receive another look as officials study the economic impact of such a move.

Officials with the Tennessee Department of Transportation announced the decision late Friday after several meetings in West Memphis and Memphis to discuss the issue.

A June 1 meeting brought several hundred people to the West Memphis Civic Center to express opposition to the move.

Sen. Keith Ingram, D-West Memphis, said the meetings and discussions between officials on both sides of the river made an impact.

“They are going to postpone for a year and conduct a comprehensive economic impact study,” Ingram told Talk Business & Politics on Saturday.

The plan may also help Tennessee officials to let out the contract in a design-build phase that will allow the bridge to remain open, Ingram said.

The I-55 bridge, or “Old Bridge,” is one of two vehicle bridges that cross the Mississippi River at Memphis. The I-40 bridge, or “New Bridge,” was completed in the 1970s.

Opponents of the original TDOT plan have said the closure of the “Old Bridge” would snarl traffic on the “New Bridge” and have a devastating impact to business on both sides of the river.

Also, the closest bridges along the river are in Helena and Dyersburg, Tenn.

Ingram said he spoke to Tennessee highway officials earlier this month about the overall project, showing officials alternatives for the project.

He also provided information on the economic impact.

“According to a 2006 TDOT study, their own study, if both bridges went down either through terrorism or natural disaster, there would be a $21 million a week loss (locally) and a $45 million a week loss (regionally),” Ingram said.

Locally, the area is home to a Union Pacific rail yard in Marion that brings in products from around the country, Ingram said.

Also, Ingram said he heard from a Connecticut cotton firm about the agricultural impact of a move, if it were to happen.

“They said the cost of transporting could be the death knell for cotton warehousing in Memphis,” Ingram said.

In a statement, Tennessee Department of Transportation commissioner John Schroer said the message was received loud and clear.

“Over the past several weeks, we have heard from residents, business owners, elected officials and other stakeholders in Memphis and in Arkansas, and we understand there is a significant level of concern over a full closure of the Memphis-Arkansas Bridge,” Schroer said. “We want to take the opportunity to address those concerns before moving forward with construction.”