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Planners eyeing new river bridge at Memphis

MEMPHIS — Regional transportation planners are studying a possible new bridge over the Mississippi River proposed for somewhere in the Memphis metropolitan area.

The Commercial Appeal reports that highway and rail planners from three states — Tennessee, Arkansas and Mississippi — plus the Federal Highway Administration are involved in the study dubbed the Southern Gateway Project.

A new bridge would be the fifth for the Memphis area. Two spans now carry highways across the Mississippi while two more carry rail lines. The study will look at possible multi-modal designs that could carry highway vehicles, trains, bicycles and pedestrians.

Plans call for identifying a preferred alternative by 2014, with a final environmental impact statement done the following year.

“Right now, we’re trying to determine the purpose and need for the project,” said Steve Chipman, project manager for the Tennessee Department of Transportation.

The newest of the four current bridges, the Hernando DeSoto Bridge that links West Memphis, Ark., with downtown Memphis, via Interstate 40, was opened in 1973. The Memphis and Arkansas bridge carrying traffic on I-55 a few miles south of the downtown area was built in 1949. The Frisco and Harahan rail bridges are 119 and 95 years old, respectively.

Officials say the highway spans handle heavy traffic volumes — nearly 50,000 vehicles a day on each bridge — and don’t meet current standards.

Past estimates indicated that a new span, especially one serving rail as well as vehicles, could cost up to $1 billion.

Chipman said the study could show that a new Memphis crossing would be of national significance given the large volume of freight moving through the area.

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