Lamar Avenue repair and expansion on the way

The Lamar Avenue corridor, one of the region’s busiest thoroughfares, will finally move forward on a much-needed overhaul thanks to a $71.2 million U.S. Department of Transportation Infrastructure For Rebuilding America grant to be used for roadway repairs and capacity upgrades. Lamar Avenue will be widened from four lanes to six lanes.

“This has been the No. 1 logistics driver for a long time and the No. 1 priority for the Chamber as far as improvements for our industries and our companies here,” said Greater Memphis Chamber president and CEO Phil Trenary.

“If nothing else, we want the entire community to understand that this is the kind of good thing that happens when we all pull together,” said Trenary. “Both mayors said ‘What can we do?’, the business community engaged, throughout the whole process no one said ‘no.’ It was the unified effort that made the difference.”

Trenary explained the regional effort was supported by Arkansas, Mississippi and across the state of Tennessee, and it transcended administrations from Obama to Trump.

The effort to secure the funding gained traction in 2016 when federal, state and local partners came together, including the U.S. Department of Transportation and the Honorable Secretary Chao, Governor Bill Haslam, members of the regional congressional delegation, Tennessee Department of Transportation, Mayors Jim Strickland and Mark H. Luttrell, Jr., the Memphis Metropolitan Planning Organization , and other political leaders and partner agencies.

“That could not have happened had we not had in my opinion that effort starting in 2016,” he said. “And we probably would not have been shaping it in 2016 if it had not been a priority for almost ten years.”

The state has already invested in acquiring the right of way and has committed to funding the balance of the project, which will include new interchanges at Winchester Road, East Shelby Drive and East Holmes Road.

“When you consider we have 71,000 people employed in the area at more than 1,300 companies, this is a very big deal,” said Trenary.

The Lamar corridor runs from the Tennessee-Mississippi state line to Interstate-240, linking interstate highways, airports, maritime ports and rail and connecting Memphis and Shelby County to Birmingham, Atlanta and other major metropolitan cities in the Southeast.

“We’ve had a lot of companies complain about damaged goods because of the condition of the roads there,” said Trenary.

The $300 million BNSF intermodal facility on Lamar has been operating at just 70 percent of capacity, with the main limiting factor being the poor road conditions.

“The cost of transportation continues to go up, and our companies there are paying a price to be in Memphis because of the conditions on Lamar,” said Trenary. “We’ve got to upgrade it in order to be competitive in keeping the companies we have and to attract new companies.”

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Michael Waddell is a native Memphian who returned to Memphis several years ago after working for nearly a decade in San Diego and St. Petersburg, Fla., as a writer, editor and graphic designer. His work over the past few years has been featured in The Memphis Daily News, Memphis Bioworks Magazine, Memphis Crossroads, the New York Daily News and the New York Post. Contact Michael.