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East Arkansas residents concerned about planned 9-month closure of Interstate 55 bridge

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LITTLE ROCK, Arkansas — Some West Memphis residents say they're concerned over plans to temporarily close a bridge in 2017 that serves as one of two main crossings between the city and neighboring Memphis, Tennessee.

They say the decision to close the Interstate 55 bridge over the Mississippi River for nine months was made without their input and without factoring the possible economic impact, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette (http://bit.ly/1CLnYWB ) reported. They also contend that the Interstate 40 bridge isn't large enough to handle the traffic of both bridges.

"It could kill our community," said Jessica Williams, a 24-year-old West Memphis resident who commutes to her job in Memphis.

She said she has met many tourists in Memphis who travel into Arkansas to enjoy parks in Jonesboro and Crowley's Ridge. And many downtown Memphis residents also cross the I-55 bridge to shop at West Memphis retail and grocery stores for convenience, she said.

"This helps our local economy," Williams said. "They will no longer do that with only one bridge to cross."

State Sen. Keith Ingram, D-West Memphis, started an online petition to keep the bridge open. The Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce also has endorsed the petition and encouraged its membership to sign it.

Tennessee state transportation officials say that temporarily closing the bridge is the only option to accommodate reconstruction of a major interchange, but that they'll try to minimize the impact of the project on residents, business owners, commuters and emergency services.

They acknowledge that Arkansas opposition to the bridge closure has been loud.

"We have heard it," said Jane Jones, a project development director for the Tennessee Department of Transportation region that includes the Memphis area. But she said that it doesn't necessarily mean that Tennessee highway officials will leave the bridge open.

"The closure is still on the table," Jones said.


Information from: Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, http://www.arkansasonline.com

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