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    Public-Private Partnership At Heart of Harahan Grant

    By Bill Dries - The Daily News -

    When the U.S. Transportation Department announced which projects across the country would get a share of $500 million in TIGER grants, it came after local leaders made a series of decisions of their own about a combination of state and federal funding that traveled different paths from the same coffers to two Memphis projects.

    One local grant application under the TIGER – Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery – program was for the Harahan Rail Bridge boardwalk for pedestrians and bicyclists across the Mississippi River.

    The other was for streetscape improvements to Elvis Presley Boulevard between Brooks Road and Shelby Drive.

    The Harahan project won $15 million in TIGER funding while the Elvis Presley Boulevard project didn’t win any money.

    At the outset, local leaders were not optimistic that either one would be funded. But federal officials had led them to believe that two applications from the same city would not cancel each other out in the selection process.

    Downtown Memphis Commission president Paul Morris said several times Monday, June 25, federal officials told him that only 5 percent of the proposals would probably get funding.

    “I want everyone here to understand how unlikely it was for Memphis to get one of these TIGER grants,” Morris said. “The reason we won out is because we had a public-private partnership that worked together.”

    The $15 million in federal funding is for improvements to the Main Street area as well as Broadway Street in West Memphis with other public and private funding for the boardwalk across the northern side of the northernmost bridge in the trio of old bridges on Downtown’s south end.

    U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Memphis, said as the so-called “Main Street to Main Street” project began to gain momentum in Washington, he along with Memphis Mayor A C Wharton Jr. and Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell were working on contingencies for the Whitehaven project.

    “When we knew that this project (Harahan) was the one most likely to be approved for a TIGER grant because it met the criteria, we saw to it that Elvis Presley Boulevard was expedited on funding by at least a year and possibly two,” Cohen said. “Most of the funds for Elvis Presley Boulevard are federal funds that come through the state and they are already appropriated.”

    That funding was part of a total of $45.5 million in state and federal funding already secured for Elvis Presley Boulevard before the TIGER grant decision.

    The Shelby County Commission approved on Monday $78,000 in state funding for the project that includes $19,500 in matching local funding. The money is for the development of a gateway at Brooks Road and Elvis Presley Boulevard, the northern end of the corridor.

    The $10.2 million TIGER application for the boulevard would have gone for the purchase of 10 buses for Elvis Presley Boulevard express bus service and the construction of 12 bus stops and shelters along the boulevard.

    Memphis Area Transit Authority president and general manager Will Hudson confirmed Monday that MATA’s plans for the express bus service on the boulevard are continuing even though the board voted this week to drop its other express bus service, the 22 Poplar Express (see related story on Page 1).

    The Harahan Bridge project has changed some as well in the process. The boardwalk along the bridge where cars and other non-train traffic once moved is still the centerpiece.

    “This thing has been sort of like a space shuttle launch,” said Charles McVean, the commodities trader who has been the coordinator of the boardwalk project. “A whole lot of things have got to go right kind of all at once before you can get up the nerve to look out the window to see if everything is OK.”

    McVean originally envisioned a link of the boardwalk to a West Memphis park along the Arkansas side’s system of levees. Because of concerns about what the bicycle and pedestrian traffic might mean for the levees that are first and foremost a means of flood control, the project shifted focus earlier this year to focus on a connection to Broadway instead.

    The Memphis end of the boardwalk also changed a bit with plans shifting from some kind of entrance by the river side of Church of the River to an entrance off Channel 3 Drive that will skirt the church property but not cross it.

    “The city is going to appoint a commission or a project manager to run the project,” said Greg Maxted of the Harahan Bridge project. “The preliminary (engineering) study is done. We’ll have to do a final study, which will take some time.”