Wednesday, April 1, 2009

I-69: Project Circle Jerk

Mexican drug lords and Motown car guys applaud TDOT.

Posted By on Wed, Apr 1, 2009 at 4:00 AM

Citing long-term benefits to their troubled business models, drug lords in Mexico and former car executives in Detroit praised road builders in Tennessee and Mississippi for expediting Interstate 269 around Memphis.

The Tennessee Department of Transportation (TDOT) announced this week that it is speeding up construction of the interstate loop dubbed "the future Interstate 269 Corridor." Total cost of "Project Circle Jerk," as it is known to insiders, is an estimated $145 million.

"Interstate 269 will be a vital link between the marijuana fields in Mexico and our key markets in the United States," said Mexican drug lord Chico "El Butcher" Estrada, who recently beheaded all of his rivals in the state of La Cucaracha. "Everyone knows about American crack houses and meth labs. We cannot consistently deliver high-value, time-sensitive shipments if we have to pay bribes and deal with Interstate 240 drug interdictions. This will level the playing field and fulfill the promises of NAFTA."

Former General Motors chief executive Rick Wagoner also praised TDOT and the Memphis Metropolitan Planning Organization (MMPO).

"I might still have my job if everyone was this gung-ho about highways," said Wagoner, a day after being forced out by President Barack "Sack" Obama. "Heck, we might have even saved the Oldsmobile. It is unfortunate that more people do not understand that what is good for Hummers and Escalades is good for America. Good luck with that Volt thing, greenies."

TDOT and the MMPO approved the so-called outer loop around Memphis at the instigation of Orville Turnipseed, a farmer in Fisherville, who complained that his weekly trip to Millington and Atoka to deliver a truckload of tomatoes took him 25 minutes each way. When the outer loop is completed, Turnipseed will be able to make the trip in 22 minutes. And when I-269 is completed through Marshall and DeSoto counties in Mississippi, his brother in Hernando will be able to expedite his weekly delivery of watermelons.

"This is all about commerce," said Turnipseed, who received $1 million an acre for right-of-way through his land.

TDOT senior planner Seymour Rhodes called the loop a "game changer."

"We are tickled to death that we can do this for the Turnipseeds and the other 47 folks who regularly use the Paul W. Barret Parkway between Arlington and Millington," Rhodes said. "They're the real heroes in this story. The outer loop has been on the books since 1986, which just shows you what a far-sighted plan it is."

Memphians who want to see the future for themselves can follow this route from downtown Memphis. From the Hernando DeSoto Bridge, take Interstate 40 north, noting the land berms and incomplete exit ramps that still mark the unsuccessful attempt to ram I-40 through Midtown 40 years ago. Veer west toward Frayser and Millington, noting the berms and exit ramps at the juncture of U.S. Highway 51 that mark the uncompleted interstate connector to Mud Island. Take Highway 51 north 10 miles to Barret Parkway, also known as Highway 385.

Proceed eastward to Arlington, enjoying the absence of traffic, signs, or businesses along the way. It's 14 miles to Arlington, which is marked by subdivisions and a new county high school. Cross U.S. Highway 70 and then Interstate 40 at mile marker 24. The divided highway goes another two miles and ends at U.S. Highway 64. Get on Highway 205 and proceed south to Collierville. Note that the ramps and bridges for Interstate 269 already have been completed. Take a left on Poplar Avenue to Piperton, just over the Fayette County line, where Highway 385 resumes. You're minutes from Highway 72 and Bill Morris Parkway, which puts you back on Interstate 240, and in another 20 minutes or so, you're back downtown where you started.

At some point east or west of Collierville, I-269 will slice across DeSoto County to Interstate 55 in Hernando, where there is already a link to Tunica. Then it will cross the Mississippi River and proceed to Arkansas, Texas, and the Mexican border.

Still on the TDOT books is the Shelby County Flyover, a 40-mile elevated interstate connecting the Mississippi River and Fayette County west of the Hatchie River.

"That's the big one," Rhodes said. "But until we can get the cost below $20 trillion, it's premature. We all must make sacrifices in this recession."

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