Today’s Memphis Commercial Appeal contains a typical rendition of one of the fundamental problems with the newspaper: it confuses the op-ed page with a forum for writing news pieces that are completely unsourced. Today’s example: its editorial on the selection of a route for Interstate 69 through the city, which somehow in 527 words manages to avoid taking a position on absolutely anything. Let’s start at the beginning:
AN ADVISORY committee’s proposed route for the extension of Interstate 69 through metropolitan Memphis offers a compromise that should provide some satisfaction to the highway’s proponents in Tennessee as well as Mississippi. The recommended route is actually two routes: one through downtown Memphis that would get the I-69 designation and an outer loop to be called I-269.
Indeed it should. Did it occur to anyone at the CA to interview these proponents so we can be sure? Or are we just engaging in wild speculation here?
Officials in Mississippi, backed by the state’s congressional delegation, say they would prefer a horseshoe-shaped loop for I-69 between Millington and Hernando to improve transportation and bring new economic activity to eastern DeSoto and Marshall counties. Memphis officials have not opposed an I-69 bypass, but have lobbied for a downtown route for the new highway, which eventually will link Canada to Mexico through eight U.S. states.
Well, the basic facts, at least, aren’t in question.
Much of the Shelby County portion of the proposed outer loop is built or under construction. The Tenn. 385 loop, which includes Paul Barret Parkway, would become I-269 at Millington, connecting to a new section of Tenn. 385 that is under construction between Arlington and Collierville.
It might have been worthwhile to clarify that part of Tenn. 385—the Nonconnah Parkway—won’t become part of I-269. That, you know, would actually be informative.
South of Collierville, a road would have to be built through the northwest corner of Marshall County and across northeast DeSoto County. The new road would cross I-55 north of Hernando. Work on the highway west of that point is under way, with grading, drainage and bridge work on the stretch that runs from U.S. 61 to Interstate 55 expected to be complete by November 2004.
Good to know our friends at the CA at least read the DeSoto Times, as a reader of the CA wouldn’t actually know this from their previous reporting on the topic. (For the record, we’re four paragraphs in, and there has yet to appear a single opinion.)
Much of its route through Memphis is paved. From Millington, a new stretch of the highway would be built to just below Frayser, following a path west of U.S. 51. From there it would use existing freeways, starting with the connector between U.S. 51 and the I-40/240 loop, merging with I-40/240 and then following I-55 South, picking up I-269 traffic north of Hernando, then heading southwest into the Mississippi Delta.
“Much of its route through Memphis is paved?” And the rest is a cowpath? Are there dirt freeways in Shelby County?
Temporarily, the new highway would be a welcome addition to the regional transportation system for suburban Memphis residents. Local commuters spent an average of 36 hours waiting in traffic in 2001, according to a report released last week by the Texas Transportation Institute at Texas A&M University. That’s about 15 hours less than the average urban commuter wasted, but no doubt more than the typical local commuter would prefer.
As the I-69 project encourages more development on the fringes of the metropolitan area, however, its advantages to the commuting public will wane. Particularly in Marshall and DeSoto counties, where new stretches of roadway would be built, I-269 could exacerbate the urban sprawl that has had considerable impact on the quality of life, culture and economics of Memphis and surrounding communities.
Never mind that Mississippi officials already planned to build a freeway along the I-269 route anyway, starting in 2009. Besides which, I suspect most people in Marshall and DeSoto counties prefer the “urban sprawl” to what was there before, since those counties didn’t really have much of an economy before it.
Interestingly enough, the Commercial Appeal isn’t very upset about a new stretch of roadway between Memphis and Millington, which is likely to be a larger sprawl magnet, seeing as that area will be much more accessible to downtown than southeastern DeSoto County is. One suspects they’re on better terms with Millington City Hall.
And the environmental impact of the highway has not been sufficiently explored. The road’s proponents maintain I-269 could have a positive effect on air quality, by relieving some of the congestion that a single, downtown route would create. Its effects on wetlands and farms could become sources of contention, though, before a final decision is made.
Uh, I call bullshit. The Tennessee and Mississippi departments of transportation have been studying the highway proposal in detail since December 2000. They have produced a Draft Environmental Impact Statement that discusses the “effects on wetlands and farms,” among other topics, which will be (a) very large and comprehensive and (b) available at area libraries later this fall, once it is approved by the Federal Highway Administration.
By late this year, a draft environmental impact statement must go to the Federal Highway Administration. Public hearings early next year could finally provide the information needed to determine what’s best for Memphis and neighboring communities.
Uh, hello? The Technical Advisory Committee has already determined “what’s best for Memphis and neighboring communities.” That’s why they made the decision to go with the “system alternative.” The public hearings are designed to determine whether the public agrees with that choice—there have already been two other sets of public meetings designed to find out what alternatives the public would like to see considered.
By the way, that’s where this “editorial” ends. What does the CA think? Who knows? But if you’re going to be an opinion leader, it probably helps to have an opinion in the first place.