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    Shelby Farms road still stirring controversy

    Jody Callahan - The Commercial Appeal -

    For nearly 40 years, plans for a road through Shelby Farms have been born and reborn, altered and revised, praised and pilloried.

    But one thing has never changed: Park lovers hate the very idea of a road, in any form. While some designs have been more palatable to park users than others, most would prefer that plans for a road through Shelby Farms were abandoned altogether.

    That was reiterated Thursday night in a meeting of the Sierra Club at the Benjamin L. Hooks Central Library. While similar meetings in the past have been nastier or more vitriolic, those attending this one still met the idea of a road — and its current design — with skepticism and suspicion.

    "Why don't you do the least damage to the park?" Newton Anderson asked, while City Engineer John Cameron was delivering a presentation on the road.

    As currently envisioned, the "Shelby Farms Parkway" would travel north off Walnut Grove through a portion of the park's western side, eventually connecting with Mullins Station. It would have four lanes with a posted speed limit of 35 mph. The road would be heavily landscaped, and would also include a trail for pedestrians and cyclists. It would effectively replace Farm Road, a mostly two-lane road through the park that becomes seriously overloaded during rush hour.

    But many of the 75 or so in attendance still had questions and problems with the plan. One wanted to know if the new road would mean other roads in the area, including Mullins Station, would also be expanded. Another wanted to know if there were any assurances that the parkway wouldn't be widened in a few years. Still others worried about potential environmental effects, including possible groundwater contamination. The Sierra Club officially disapproves of the current design.

    "My concern is that all of this ... is going to draw large amounts of commuter traffic through the park," Steve Sondheim said.

    While Cameron believes such a road is closer to happening now than ever before, he admitted it will still be several years before anyone is driving on it.

    That will probably only frustrate Nancy Reed, who lives just north of the park, even more.

    "I have been knowing about this road for at least 55 years," she said. "I'm ready to give up and say the heck with it. I'm just tired of it."