Improvements in store for the Road to Graceland
By Adrian Sainz, APMEMPHIS, Tennessee--The road to Graceland is not a pretty sight. At least not yet.
August 14, 2013, 12:00 am TWN
Elvis Presley Boulevard leads hundreds of thousands of visitors each year to Graceland, the late rock `n' roll icon's Memphis mansion, and to the exhibits across the street. Tourists exit off Interstate 55 and cruise through a mile's worth of empty businesses, vacant lots, crooked utility poles, crumbling sidewalks, poor lighting and drab landscaping.
Fast-food joints and gas stations are the main options for eating nearest to Graceland. Businesses such as used-car dealerships and auto-parts stores also are part of the mix. Lodging options are not plentiful: The highest-quality chain hotels in the immediate area are an EconoLodge and a Days Inn.
Susan Green and her husband David came from Jasper, Georgia, to visit Graceland last week, just days before the start of Elvis Week, an annual event during which throngs descend on Memphis to celebrate Presley's life and career, capped by a candlelight vigil at Graceland to remember his death on Aug. 16, 1977.
“I wasn't that impressed,” Green said of Presley Boulevard. “I expected something more grand. I think it could use a little sprucing up.”
To make the road more welcoming for tourists and more pleasant for residents of the working- and middle-class community of Whitehaven just past Graceland, the city has begun making a series of infrastructure improvements. Workers already have widened and repaved one main intersection and plan to do the same to several others.
Officials say they believe the planned improvements to utilities, sidewalks, curbs, gutters, signs and lighting — plus new artwork at intersections and along the road — will impress tourists, lure new businesses, improve pedestrian and traffic safety, and better the quality of life in Whitehaven.
The US$43 million project began early this year and is expected to be completed in 2016 or 2017, said Memphis City Councilman Harold Collins, the driving force behind the plan. Funding has been split between the state's US$27 million and US$16 million from the city.
“When the finished product is done, tourists will see a new boulevard that's fitting for their visit to Graceland but also fitting for the community that surrounds Graceland,” Collins said.
Cab driver Frank Williams, who takes people to and from Graceland every day, said he would like to see some bumps in the road fixed and a lower speed limit between three stoplights that bracket the boulevard right in front of Graceland.
“This is a busy area. It will make commuting much easier,” Williams said. “Whitehaven is like a city within a city.”
One key aspect of the project is removing the unsightly power poles that line the boulevard. Memphis Light, Gas and Water plans to install a network of underground power lines to replace cracked wooden poles.