The Commercial Appeal newspaper 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.
A website set up for the study, at www.southerngatewayproject.com , says the project is intended to document shortcomings of the current cross-river transportation network, then look at potential locations for a new bridge. Possible sites range from DeSoto County in northern Mississippi up to northwest Shelby County in Tennessee, west of Millington and north of Memphis.
Planners also will assess the demand for a span accommodating different modes of transportation — everything from bicycle and pedestrian to rail. The project will also look at funding options and environmental impact.
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.