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Rep. Steve Cohen discusses Memphis priorities for anticipated federal infrastructure plan funding

Published: Jan. 31, 2022 at 6:35 PM CST
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - As state departments of transportation prepare for the exact amount that will be allocated to them from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA), the Bluff City makes its infrastructure wish list.

During the Greater Memphis Chamber’s most recent Supply Chain Webinar Series, TN-9 Congressman Steve Cohen gave a rundown of priorities that Memphis could potentially see funded from the act.

“Removing lead pipes,” Cohen said plainly. “We’ve got lead pipes in Memphis: Mid-town, Downtown, and in the inner city.”

Cohen also mentioned the need for inner-city broadband, a need he believes is as great as broadband disparities in rural parts of the state.

Investments in MATA and other modes of public transportation are also priorities he feels deserve funding.

“Our county and city mayors have groups that look at infrastructure projects and rank them for the benefit of the community,” Cohen said. “Those will be put forth as priorities.”

“The conversation reminded me how great it is to have someone representing Memphis who also sits on the [House] Transportation and Infrastructure Committee,” said Bobby White, the Chamber’s chief public policy officer.

Another long-term vision voiced by both White and Cohen is the planning of a third bridge, a “replacement bridge” as White words it.

The overall construction of one could take years and potentially billions in spending, but what could be funded now are environmental studies that could narrow a potential site for a bridge to get the ball rolling on subsequent construction.

“[The study] is normally 2% of the entire cost, which is significant,” Cohen said. “It’s expensive, but it’s long-term.”

“What we are in a position to do is begin to plan and look toward the future in terms of what needs to be true for us to set ourselves up, not just Memphis and Tennessee, but as a region,” White said.

The Memphis International Airport is already slated to receive $17.2 million in the first year of IIJA’s five-year lifespan. Cohen said it’s a nod to the airport’s importance on the global logistic stage.

White said he and other Memphis business leaders are heading to Nashville with these priorities in mind and plan to sit down with the commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Transporation (TDOT) to make these priorities known in anticipation for the reveal of IIJA funding figures.

At last check, TDOT is expected to receive $6.2 billion over the five-year lifespan of the IIJA to distribute across the state, but the agency likely won’t know exactly how much until mid-February.

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