Why is the state of Tennessee studying a new Mississippi River crossing in the Memphis area?

    The Memphis area is a vital gateway for regional and national commerce. The area is home to five Class I railroads, the world’s busiest cargo airport, the nation’s fourth largest inland port and three interstate routes that carry some of the highest truck volumes in the nation. But as the population grows and traffic congestion builds, our aging bridges and roadways are showing strain.

    The economic vitality of Memphis and the tri-state area is dependent, in part, on the safe and efficient flow of passenger traffic and freight. That is why state and local transportation officials are planning now for future connections across the Mississippi River.

Is a new river crossing even feasible?

    Over the past several years, TDOT has conducted broad studies to determine if a new Mississippi River bridge would be feasible in the metropolitan Memphis area. These studies collected preliminary data on the existing highway transportation system, general information on the natural environment and socio-economic characteristics of the area. These previous studies are posted on the Library page of this website.

    Highway corridors and several bridge locations were screened based on engineering issues, estimated costs, and a broad, qualitative assessment of the potential environmental and community impacts. These preliminary studies determined that a new bridge is feasible and recommended how to move forward to the next level of detail.

Will current work on the Hernando-DeSoto bridge solve the earthquake risk problems?

    TDOT is currently working on a seismic retrofit of the Hernando-DeSoto (I-40) bridge to improve its ability to withstand an earthquake in the region. The Memphis-Arkansas (I-55) bridge and the two railroad bridges are not designed to withstand a significant earthquake in the region and therefore a risk to the transportation system will still exist.

Why can’t the old bridges be expanded or repaired to address the issues?

    Due to the age and structural design of the I-55 bridge and the two railroad bridges, they cannot feasibly be repaired or expanded to fully address existing transportation deficiencies and concerns.

Will the old bridge(s) be removed?

    There are no current plans to remove any of the existing bridges in the Memphis area.

What will the new bridge look like?

    Design of new bridge crossing cannot begin until after completion of the Environmental Impact Statement. Visual considerations of a new bridge are not a part of this study.

Why is the project called the Southern Gateway?

    “The Southern Gateway” reflects that this project is about more than just a bridge. The project name tag line “Crossing the River / Connecting America” refers to an overall plan for improving cross-river travel for people and freight, and for better connections through Memphis to the tri-state region (Tennessee, Arkansas and Mississippi) and the nation at large. The Southern Gateway will consider how to address cross-river transportation needs for various modes of transportation (highway, freight railroad, passenger railroad, and bicycles/pedestrians) in the Memphis metropolitan area now and in the future.

Why does the Southern Gateway project have to go through the environmental review process?

    The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) requires that projects receiving federal funding or requiring federal actions (e.g., permits) undergo an environmental review process. This project will require the preparation of an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), the most comprehensive NEPA document for major projects. The project cannot proceed until this requirement has been successfully completed.

What type of environmental issues will be studied?

    A wide range of environmental assessment and detailed study will be included in the project including land use/relocations, farmland impact, environmental justice, publicly owned land, parks, historic sites, economic impact, pedestrian/bicycle facilities, cultural resources, air and noise impact, groundwater, wetlands/streams/floodplains, threatened and endangered species, and hazardous material sites.

Why is the development of a Purpose and Need Statement for the project so important?

    Development of a Purpose and Need Statement is the first major step in the environmental process. It identifies issues to be addressed by the Southern Gateway project and defines specific reasons for the project. It is based in technical analysis but is developed with input from the public and federal, state, and local agencies. The Purpose and Need Statement is an important document because it sets the framework for the remainder of the environmental process, and serves as a benchmark against which various improvement alternatives are evaluated.

    The Purpose and Need Statement for this project will assess existing transportation deficiencies and concerns including seismic (earthquake) risks, capacity constraints, intermodal connectivity, bicycle and pedestrian facilities, safety and system security, economic development, and emergency response.

What is the process of determining where the crossing will be?

    The project team will begin by developing seven broad (two-mile-wide) corridors for a potential river crossing and connections to the existing transportation system that meet the project Purpose and Need. Preliminary data, technical evaluation and input from the public and various stakeholders will allow the project team to reduce the number of corridors to four and narrow them to 2,000-feet wide. This process will be repeated once more – with an even greater degree of technical detail and public involvement – helping the team narrow the corridor options to three. The three remaining corridors will then be subject to in-depth environmental and technical analysis in a Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS).

    The DEIS will be released for review by the public and regulatory agencies, and a public hearing will be held to receive comments. After considering comments on the DEIS, the proposed corridor or Preferred Alternative, will be selected and disclosed in a Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS). The Preferred Alternative may be the “No-Build” alternative, meaning that a new corridor and bridge crossing were not deemed to be feasible at this time.

When will the Southern Gateway project be constructed?

    Per the current project schedule, the environmental process is anticipated to be completed in 2018. The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) has responsibility for providing ultimate approval of the document through a Record of Decision (ROD). That approval allows the Preferred Alternative to proceed to the next phases of development – design, right of way acquisition and construction.

    The timing of future phases will depend on the procurement of funding. Throughout this study, TDOT will continue to pursue funding for future phases of the project.

How will the project be paid for?

    Throughout this study, TDOT will continue to pursue and investigate funding options. These options will include federal, state and private resources. An evaluation of toll funding for the project will also be considered.

Will we have to pay tolls to use the new bridge and roadways?

    Tolling will be considered as one potential funding source, however it has not yet been determined if the new facilities will tolled or not.

What is the overall project schedule?

    The overall schedule for the Environmental Impact Statement if provided on the Schedule page of this website.