FEBRUARY 23, 2006 - Posted at 4:13 p.m. CST
WEST MEMPHIS, AR - There are currently only 12 lanes allowing motorists to cross the Mississippi River from Arkansas into Memphis and back, and transportation officials in both Arkansas and Tennessee say that simply isn't enough.
A small accident on either of the two bridges usually means hours of backed-up traffic.
Now, the Tennessee Department of Transportation is considering the possibility of adding a third bridge across the river, and crossed the Mississippi into Arkansas this afternoon for a public hearing on the issue in West Memphis.
Today's hearing was the third of four public sessions on the issue hosted by T-Dot.
Several years ago the Arkansas Highway & Transportation Department proposed building a third bridge, south of the two existing spans, but a new T-Dot plan may be picking up steam on this side of the river. "I've heard that part of their plan is to create bridges north of the existing bridges instead of the Arkansas plan to build the bridges south of the existing ones," said Crittenden County Judge Melton Holt."
"Me and others have never felt like this has been a highly pushed placement of the bridge," said a surprised Marion Mayor Frank Fogleman, referring to the T-Dot plan. Crittenden County attorney J.R. Thomas added, "I think it is great. I would obviously prefer the top one, but just as long as we get one is the important thing." Specifically, the Tennessee plan that was most popular at today's hearing calls for a bridge on the north side of Memphis, with most of the highway running through the Marion area before connecting with Interstate-40.
For those who drive across the river on a daily basis, a third bridge is essential. The two existing bridges are aging...the original Memphis-Arkansas bridge is more than 60 years old, and the Interstate-40 Hernando DeSoto bridge was built more than 30 years ago. That means small lanes on the old I-55 bridge, plus annoying construction on the newer bridge to make it more earthquake-resistant. "The real concern for us is we have a lot of people who work in Memphis and they have to travel this bridge every day," said Judge Holt.
Meanwhile, Fogleman says he can't help but be excited about the possibilities. "I have a feeling this could have a very positive impact on the city of Marion," said the mayor.