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Loop Added to $35M I-55 Revamp Project in Tenn.

Fri July 09, 2010 - Southeast Edition
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) A loop connecting Interstate 55 to area neighborhoods near the Mississippi River has been added to a $35 million revamp of the roadway.

The Memphis Commercial Appeal reported that planners with the Tennessee Department of Transportation are considering options including “roundabout” similar to an old traffic circle allowing right turns only.

The I-55 project is now the subject of environmental studies and construction still years away on what is considered one of the most problematic sections of interstate in Memphis.

Tennessee transportation officials are looking to revamp the Crump interchange to allow for a continuous flow of traffic along I-55.

Currently, motorists have to negotiate single-lane ramps at an outdated cloverleaf interchange at Crump before continuing north toward St. Louis or south toward Jackson, Miss.

The 25-mph loop ramp for northbound traffic is a major source of congestion, with 18-wheelers often backed up for miles.

Project manager Steve Chipman said a revamp would allow drivers to bypass interchange ramps by realigning the interstate into a sweeping curve between the Memphis & Arkansas bridge, which is angled mostly east to west, and the north-south I-55 corridor through Memphis.

Hailed for their safety, roundabouts differ from traditional traffic circles in that vehicles already in the circular traffic flow have the right-of-way and those entering it must yield. They also tend to be smaller.

City engineer Wain Gaskins said the only problem with roundabouts he sees is the lack of “local experience with them.” Gaskins said a number of motorists have run into the one on Mud Island.

“They don’t go around the circle. They try to go through the circle,” he said.

Still, a roundabout might be a good idea in some places, including the Crump interchange, Gaskins said.

“Once you pull out the interstate traffic, that’s not going to be a major intersection,” he said.