August 03, 2015

Weingarten Taking Steps to Alleviate Poplar Traffic Congestion Concerns

By C. Richard Cotton
– Memphis Business Journal –

Continuing development along the Poplar Avenue corridor near I-240 promises to add even more traffic congestion to Memphis’ primary east-west artery.

Or will it?

Construction of two new Ridgeway Center office buildings and the new retail development, almost across Poplar from each other, will undoubtedly add traffic to an already huge number of vehicles traveling that area of town. But there is optimism that planned roadway improvements will actually reduce gridlock, headaches and length of travel time.

Boyle Investment Co. is filling in the final two large lots in its Ridgeway Center development on the north side of Poplar east of I-240, reports Rusty Bloodworth, Boyle’s executive vice president. He says the company began developing the center more than three decades ago in the early 1970s.

"The general pattern hasn’t changed," Bloodworth says of the traffic situation in that area. Boyle undertook a major construction project in 1972 that resulted in the current bi-level Poplar Avenue in that area and the "loops" into and out of Ridgeway Center.

At the time, that particular construction — primarily elevating westbound Poplar traffic onto an overpass above Sweetbrier Road — cost Boyle $1.5 million, Bloodworth says. He concedes it would be much more expensive to build that same project today.

With the announcement of a retail center to be constructed on the opposite side of Poplar from Ridgeway Center, Bloodworth admits Boyle had some concerns about what would become of an already busy Memphis traffic area.

"We feel like it’s going to work, especially after they re-synchronize the signals," Bloodworth says.

According to Tammy Coker, chief information director for Houston-based Weingarten Realty Investors, the morning rush hour should not be affected by the new Ridgeway Trace Center under construction on the south side of Poplar, which is replacing an apartment complex at the southern terminus of Sweetbrier. Retail businesses generally open at least two hours after the rush is over.

The primarily retail project is estimated to cost Weingarten $66.5 million. Included in that cost will be $700,000 or so that Weingarten will pay for improvements to Poplar Avenue and signals controlling traffic into Ridgeway Trace, says James Collins, vice president of Kimley-Horn & Associates consulting engineers. "We looked at the whole area," Collins says.

Kimley-Horn eventually recommended the addition of a lane on eastbound Poplar from just west of the proposed Weingarten project (at the I-240 exit lane) to Ridgeway/Shady Grove roads. Included will be a new right-turn lane into the Weingarten property.

For westbound traffic, Weingarten will synchronize four signals around the loop and at Ridgeway/Shady Grove roads, adding fiber-optic cable connections where necessary.

"The Ridgeway Loop signals were way off," says Chuck Gurney, Weingarten’s project development manager for the Memphis undertaking. "We will coordinate those lights. Our intent is to try to make traffic better on Poplar Avenue."

Gurney says it is worth noting that the City of Memphis has begun the study process for widening the westbound loop onto Poplar at Ridgeway Center and westbound Poplar past there; he expects that work to begin "in the next year or so."

While Weingarten is still "in the final design stage" with Ridgeway Trace Center, says Gurney, the company is pleased with its decision to locate there and is taking its commitments to roadway improvements in stride.

"It’s a busy section but we think these will all be improvements. It’s a great piece of property, and we’re excited about being there."