Street Smarts 

City plans improvements for two major traffic corridors.

During peak drive times, trucks back up traffic along the easternmost stretch of Lamar Avenue, earning the corridor the title of "most congested" in the city.

"The corridor is a level F, which means bumper-to-bumper traffic," says Memphis Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) administrator Martha Lott. "This is one of the most congested corridors in the city, unless a lane goes down on one of the bridges into Arkansas."

The MPO, in partnership with the University of Memphis and consulting firm Cambridge Systematics, recently began a corridor study in an effort to ease congestion on Lamar from I-240 to Goodman Road in Mississippi. Once complete, the results will guide the MPO on what improvements to make, such as roadway widening and updated traffic-light signaling.

Like most problems, the congestion is likely to get worse before it gets better.

"Burlington Sante Fe railroad [just off Lamar] has a $2 million expansion that opened in June," Lott says. "They're expecting an additional 300 trucks going in and out of there by October."

Lott says the study was launched in conjunction with the city's aerotropolis initiative, which deals with improvements to the airport area.

The congestion along Lamar isn't doing much for air quality, either: "Shelby County has a non-attainment ranking for our air-quality status," Lott says. "All those trucks sitting there idling [at stoplights] are greatly impacting the air quality."

As part of the study, interns from the University of Memphis have been following big rigs along Lamar to find out where the trucks are coming from, where they are going, and how long it takes them to get there.

The approximately $200,000 study also entails estimating freight demand in the corridor through input from the various companies, such as Williams-Sonoma and Nike, located along the busiest stretch of Lamar.

Improvements to Elvis Presley Boulevard, a less congested major corridor, are also being planned. Last week, the city was awarded a federal grant of nearly $1 million to enhance the streetscape between Craft Road and Winchester.

"This money is specifically for sidewalks, crosswalks, streetscape, and landscape improvements. We're making it look pretty," says city engineer Wain Gaskins.

The enhancements are a small portion of a larger planned project to improve Elvis Presley all the way to Shelby Drive.

"We're going to have to work closely with Elvis Presley Enterprises on design improvements," Gaskins says. "Graceland is looking at $250 million in improvements to that area. Whatever we do, we want to make sure it marries up with their plans."

But Gaskins points out that the improvements aren't being made solely with Graceland in mind.

"This is not an Elvis Presley Enterprises project. We want to help promote overall economic development in that entire corridor," Gaskins says. "We want all the mom-and-pop, locally owned stores along there to move up the ladder as well."

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