TDOT study shows which Memphis roads most congested

Published: Dec. 2, 2022 at 10:28 PM CST
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - Improving Tennessee’s roads and bridges is a top priority for Governor Bill Lee during his second term. He’s calling the state’s infrastructure proposal “Build With Us.”

The Tennessee Department of Transportation released congestion studies for all four major cities in the state, identifying the worst bottlenecks on highways and interstates. The Memphis Congestion Study said it will take at least $1.3 billion to keep state roads in Memphis running smoothly. And that’s money the state doesn’t have right now, even with an $8 billion dollar infusion from the Infrastructure Law passed by Congress, because state leaders said they need $34 billion to complete all their road construction goals.

Ask drivers what it’s like to navigate the highways and byways in Memphis and you’ll likely get similar responses.

“Terrible, I hate the streets of Memphis,” said University of Memphis student Raz Younis, “potholes everywhere and the tiny little lanes in construction zones where everyone’s in somebody else’s lane because their car can’t fit in there, it’s terrible.”

“It’s kind of congested as you go around the 240 loop,” Elbert Donelson told Action News 5, “traffic is sometimes backed up, and when you’re coming around to Sycamore View on I-40, that loop right there is always congested.”

“It’s horrible,” said Shanga Hassan, “It’s horrible. Honestly, it’s dangerous. It’s better to fix a problem before it actually happens.”

A map from TDOT’s Memphis Congestion Study showed the state roads dealing with the worst bottlenecks.

Number one on the list: Lamar Avenue, a critical, but clogged corridor for Memphis’ trucking industry.

The TDOT study recorded 4,550 bottlenecks on Lamar Avenue during a five month period, with the worst stretch between Shelby Drive and Holmes Road.

Number two: Walnut Grove between I-240 and Humphreys with 1,923 bottlenecks.

Third: Austin Peay Highway between Stage and Yale with more than 1,836 bottlenecks.

Winchester Road at Germantown Road is 4th with 1,547 bottlenecks.

And U.S. 61, South Third between Mitchell and Brooks rounds out the Top 5 with 1,322 bottlenecks.

Governor Lee said Friday, “As Tennessee continues to experience unprecedented growth, it’s critical we invest in roads and bridges to fully harness our state’s success. I asked Commissioner Eley to look at best practices around the country to see what’s working and what isn’t. The Build With Us plan will provide quality infrastructure in both rural and urban communities and blunt congestion without raising the gas tax or going into debt.”

Perfect example of the state’s growth is just down the road from Memphis: Blue Oval City...Ford’s massive electric truck manufacturing plant in Haywood County. It’s bringing welcome jobs but not-so-welcome additional traffic on I-40.

”Oh, it’s bad. It’s rough and getting worse because they’re building that plant out there,” said Charla Smith, whose daily commute takes her down that long stretch of I-40, “I’ve seen just in the past couple of months the traffic has increased so much between here and there.”

TDOT’s already working on a $258 million widening of Lamar Avenue. The study proposed a $950,000 widening of Walnut Grove to ease the congestion by Christian Brothers and Baptist East.

It also called for a new, $105 million interchange at Walnut Grove and I-240, a new, $60 million interchange at I-40 and Sycamore View, and $50 million in improvements for the I-40 and Germantown Parkway interchange.

TDOT Commissioner Butch Eley promised, “This does not involve any increase in taxes.”

The state’s looking at creating toll roads or choice lanes to raise revenue. You would pay a fee to ride in an express lane that gets you to your destination faster, while generating money for road construction projects. It’s an option Elbert Donelson said he’s willing to consider.

“When you need to improve the highways,” he said, “you get the money from the tolls. Memphis has a problem with growth. Toll bridges and toll lanes...that’s growing. That’s growing in Memphis.”

The TDOT study suggested building new toll lanes on each side of I-40 from the 240 flyover east to Stage Road with a projected cost of $118 million.

The study also proposed widening Walnut Grove through Shelby Farms Park from two lanes to three lanes in each direction. That was an idea shot down a few years ago, so Action News 5 reached out to TDOT, Shelby Farms Park officials and City of Memphis leaders for more information.

A City of Memphis spokesperson confirmed there are no plans to take on that road widening project anytime soon.

To read the Memphis Congestion Study and TDOT’s plans across the state, click here.

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