People driving around, to and from Tipton County have seen a fair amount of road construction over the past 20 years or so.
They’ve also been informed about projects that seemed imminent but never happened. Anybody remember Interstate 69?
There is one project which involves converting sections of Highway 14 from two to four lanes. Parts of that have been completed and other parts are ongoing.
For the past two decades County Executive Jeff Huffman has been banging the drum for a more efficient east-west corridor in the county. That has not happened.
Here’s a look at what’s being done, and what’s not, for people who spin their wheels through Tipton County:
Designed to connect Mexico and Canada and nicknamed the NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement) Super Highway, Interstate 69 has been under construction for more than 20 years.
Back in 2005 and 2006, the Tennessee Department of Transportation hosted public meetings in Tipton County to discuss possible routes (east or west of Highway 51) and exit locations. Those meetings drew of lot of interest but, 15 years later, there’s no definite plan for the section of I-69 that will connect Dyersburg and Millington and run through Tipton County.
When asked about a timeline for the project, Nichole Lawrence, a TDOT community relations officer, said, “There are nine project sections for proposed I-69 from the current termini in Memphis northward adjacent to the northern extent of Covington. The time frame for completion of these projects is dependent upon funding, which has not yet been established.”
According to County Executive Jeff Huffman, funding has been the issue. He said smaller and less expensive projects are the state’s priorities right now.
“I don’t see a lot of movement on I-69 in the near future,” Huffman said.
Thousands of Tipton County residents use Highway 14 everyday to get to and from Memphis.
A section from the Shelby County line to just north of Austin Peay Elementary School has already been converted from two lanes to four, as has a portion of the highway from Covington Pike to Old Brownsville Road.
As all of those commuters are well aware, the section of the highway from Old Brownsville to Rosemark Road is under construction right now. Lawrence said funding is still being secured for part of that project and TDOT is optimistic it will be funded “in the next few years.”
There also plans in works to four-lane Highway 14 from Austin Peay Elementary to Highway 59. Again, TDOT would not give an exact completion date for that either.
Lawrence said rights of way have been acquired for both of those projects.
Huffman said once those projects are complete Highway 14 will be utilized even more by Tipton County residents.
“Tipton County is going to have another four-lane thoroughfare into Memphis, and you won’t have to go through all the lights in Millington,” Huffman said. “I think you’re going to see a lot of folks use Highway 14 instead of 51 and hit the interstate at Jackson (Avenue).”
Like the completion of the Highway 14 project and extending I-69 into Tipton County, the addition of an east-west corridor though the county does not seem to be imminent.
Huffman has been pushing for it for the better part of two decades. At this point he believes an east-west corridor is tied to the Memphis Regional Megasite, a 4,100-acre sight 14 miles from Covington in Haywood County built for industrial development.
“Here’s the way it works,” Huffman said. “I can go to the commissioner of transportation and say the county has between 66,000 and 70,000 people and we have no good east-west corridor … He’ll say we need to do a feasibility study, which would take years, and we’re going to be one of those projects on the back burner.”
But if and when a major company locates at the Megasite, Huffman believes officials would want a better way for Tipton Countians to commute to the site.
“Here’s what drives the east-west corridor,” Huffman said. “It’s going to be the private sector. It’s going to take a large automotive plant or large industrial client who says, ‘We’re going to have a lot of people from Tipton County working here and there’s not a good way to get here. If you want us to come to this site you’re going to have to make some east-west improvements’ … Now that guy is gong to get the attention of TDOT and the governor, where I’m not. That kind of half billion or billion dollar project will drive an east-west corridor. Other than that I don’t know of anything else that would.”
The bad news is that last February Gov. Bill Lee said improvements at the Megasite were “on pause.” Huffman said the state recently hired a consulting firm to determine the possibilities for the Megasite, on which the state has already spent an estimated $150 million.
“It appears, for the state, there’s no sense of urgency anymore about getting the Megasite prepared for an industry. For years they were getting it shovel-ready, now the governor and the state of Tennessee don’t seem excited about getting it shovel-ready,” Huffman said. “So, here we are, spinning our wheels again.”