More employees fuel need for second industrial entrance

By Published: September 18, 2018 11:31 AM CT

Trucks entering and exiting Frank C. Pidgeon Industrial Park have one way in and one way out, but the International Port of Memphis wants to change that.

The Memphis and Shelby County Port Commission is working to secure state funds to create a second entrance, or exit, where the road inside the industrial park currently dead ends on the south side.


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The industrial park was built in the late 1960s, but just now has enough activity to justify the cost of building a second entrance.

“Although this has been the plan for years, there was no reason to move forward because there were no employees down there. There was no justification in increasing the road capacity,” said James “Randy” Richardson, executive director of port commission.

It has always been part of the long-term transportation plan to build a connection to Shelby Drive.

“That’s why when you drive down there, Shelby Drive is five lanes to the intersection at Weaver Road,” Richardson said. “It’s sort of out of place because you’ve got five lanes going into that area, but then it just drops off.”

The hold up in building the connection was a “chicken or the egg” scenario. The connection would not be built unless it was needed, and without the road, it was hard to recruit an industrial project that would justify a major infrastructure investment.  

The port commission got its break in the late 1990s when Birmingham Steel Corp., now Nucor Steel, built a steel mill in the Pidgeon Industrial Park. 

“That was the chicken and egg that enabled us to get (Riverport Road) through T.O. Fuller State Park,” Richardson said. “When that happened, the industrial park really opened up, even though it had been in existence since the 1960s.”  

Today, the 3,500-acre industrial park is home to Electrolux, Nucor Steel, the Tennessee Valley Authority’s natural gas plant, the city of Memphis T.E. Maxson Wastewater Treatment Facility and CN and CSX railroad companies.

As Pidgeon has continued to grow, it now has roughly 1,400 people who work there each day.  

“The roads get more congested as more people come in,” Richardson said. “With the intermodal gateway facility, you have a large number of trucks moving in and out, plus the 1,400 employees.” 

There are plans for improvements to undeveloped portions of Pidgeon that are anticipated to add 4,600 additional full-time equivalent jobs, including an expansion of the CN Intermodal Terminal, the Electrolux Vendor Park, which consists of 600 acres for expansion; and the CN Ridgeport Logistics Center, which consists of 560 acres for expansion east of CN’s existing intermodal terminal.   

“Originally, the park could have up to 4,000 to 5,000 employees working there with people coming from Tennessee, Mississippi and Arkansas,” Richardson said. “They are going to need more roadway capacity.”

The only way into the industrial park is Riverport Road, which connects to Interstate 55 at the corner of Mallory Avenue. Once in the industrial park, Riverport turns south and becomes Paul R. Lowry Road.  

There are two options for extending Lowry Road: Connecting to Shelby Drive or South Third Street.

The Shelby Drive option would extend Lowry Road just west of the Horn Lake Cutoff where Shelby intersects with Sewanee Road. Then, Shelby Drive would be improved down to Weaver Road.

The second option would be to extend Lowry from just west of the Horn Lake Cutoff to South Third Street, where it would intersect just north of the Mississippi state line.

The 2016 base-year cost estimate for the Shelby Drive option is $42 million to $68 million. The South Third Street option ranges from $54 million to $83 million, using the same base-year cost estimates.

With a strong employment base in DeSoto County and Memphis, Richardson anticipates the second entrance will likely be used by employees and the trucks will continue to use Riverport Road since it leads directly to the interstate.

Like the Birmingham Steel example in the 1990s, the company expansions will likely need to occur first in order to trigger the need for a second entrance.

“What’s really going to drive the expense to build the expansion of the road is having those (potential new) companies already there,” Richardson said. “We’re going to have to see the industries first and that will drive the road construction.”

The port commission, in conjunction with the Economic Development Growth Engine (EDGE), commissioned a Transportation Investment Report, prepared by Kimley-Horn & Associates. 

The Transportation Investment Report is the first step, required by the state, in a long-term process.

Next, the port commission will look at engineering feasibility, environmental standards and community input.

By 2040, the report estimates average daily traffic on the Shelby Drive extension would be about 6,200 trips and the Lowry Road extension to Third Street to be about 3,360 trips. Both routes would consist of about 35 percent truck traffic. 

“There’s a lot of things you have to go through before a road is built,” Richardson said. “This is probably, 10, 15, 20 years down the road because it’s such a large investment.”



Frank C. Pidgeon Industrial Park Memphis and Shelby County Port Commission Birmingham Steel Corp Nucor Steel James 'Randy' Richardson
Michelle Corbet

Michelle Corbet

Michelle Corbet covers business for The Daily Memphian. Prior to, she was a reporter at the Memphis Business Journal. A native Memphian and University of Memphis graduate, Michelle covered business in Conway, Arkansas after college. Michelle got her start covering business as an intern at The Commercial Appeal.

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