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Memphis, Tennessee/Medical Center Rail Extension

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Medical Center Rail Extension


(November 1998)


The Memphis Area Transit Authority (MATA), in cooperation with the City of Memphis, is proposing to build a 2.5-mile light rail transit extension from its current termini on the western portion of Main Street Mall in the central business district east to Cleveland Street on the east (Medical Center). The proposed project would operate on-street in mixed traffic and would connect with the Main Street Trolley. At the eastern terminus, near Cleveland and Claybrook Streets, a transit terminal would be constructed to accommodate riders transferring to and from buses and cars. Fifteen stops would be located along the route. The line will be designed to accommodate light rail vehicles but vintage rail cars would be utilized until a proposed regional LRT line is implemented and a fleet of modern LRT vehicles is acquired. The project is proposed as the last segment of the downtown rail circulation system as well as the first segment of a regional light rail line.

The total capital cost of the 2.5 mile project is estimated at $30.4 million (1995 dollars). MATA has estimated total project costs in year of expenditure (YOE) at $35.9 million, with a Section 5309 share of $24.3 million. MATA estimates that the daily ridership of the proposed project would be 2,100 in the opening year (2002) and would increase to 4,200 by the forecast year 2020.

Medical Center Rail Summary Description

Proposed Project LRT Extension
2.5 miles, 15 stations
Total Capital Cost ($YOE) $35.90 million
Section 5309 Share ($YOE) $24.30 million
Annual Operating Cost ($YOE) $1.10 million
Ridership Forecast (2020) 4,200 average weekday boardings
1,650 daily new riders
FY 2000 Financial Rating: Medium-High
FY 2000 Project Justification Rating: Medium
FY 2000 Overall Project Rating: Recommended

The overall project rating applies to this Annual New Starts Report and reflects conditions as of November 1998. Project evaluation is an ongoing process. As new starts projects proceed through development, the estimates of costs, benefits, and impacts are refined. The FTA ratings and recommendations will be updated annually to reflect new information, changing conditions, and refined financing plans.


The proposed project is included in the City of Memphis' Capital Improvement Program, the Memphis MPO Transportation Improvement Program, and the State Transportation Improvement Program. A Major Investment Study/Environmental Assessment was completed in May 1997. FTA approved initiation of Preliminary Engineering for the project in March 1998.

TEA-21 Section 3030(a)(43) authorizes the Memphis Medical Center Extension for final design and construction. Through FY 1999, Congress has appropriated $7.93 million in Section 5309 New Starts funds for this project.


The following criteria have been estimated in conformance with FTA's Technical Guidance on Section 5309 New Starts Criteria. Information was not provided by MATA comparing the New Start to the Transportation System Management (TSM) alternative. As the Section 5309 share for the proposed project is below $25 million, the project is exempt from the New Starts criteria. However, MATA did report data on several criteria measures. N/A indicates that data were not reported for a specific measure.


Mobility Improvements

Rating: Low-Medium

No information on travel time savings is available at this time.

Mobility Improvements New Start vs. No-Build New Start vs. TSM
Annual Travel Time Savings (Hours) N/A N/A

Based on 1990 data, there are an estimated 3,488 low-income households within a ½ mile radius of proposed stations, representing 50 percent of total households within ½ mile of boarding points.

Environmental Benefits

Rating: Medium

Memphis is currently classified as a maintenance area for ozone and carbon monoxide. Memphis projects that in 2020, the proposed project would result in the following emissions reductions for CO, NOx, and VOC.

Criteria Pollutant New Start vs. No-Build New Start vs. TSM
Carbon Monoxide (CO) decrease of 8 annual tons N/A
Nitrogen Oxide (NOx) decrease of 1 annual ton N/A
Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC) decrease of 2 annual tons N/A
Particulate Matter (PM10) N/A N/A
Carbon Dioxide (CO2) N/A N/A

MATA estimates the following savings in regional energy consumption (measured in British Thermal Units - BTU) for the forecast year 2020.

Annual Energy Savings New Start vs. No-Build New Start vs. TSM
BTU (millions) decrease of 10,300 million annual BTU N/A

Operating Efficiencies

Rating: Not Rated

MATA estimates the following systemwide operating cost per passenger mile for the proposed project in the forecast year.

Operating Efficiencies No-Build TSM New Start
System Operating Cost per Passenger Mile (1995) N/A N/A $1.06

Values reflect 2020 ridership forecast and 1995 dollars.

Cost Effectiveness

Rating: High

MATA estimates the following cost-effectiveness index, comparing the proposed project to the No-Build alternative.

Cost Effectiveness New Start vs. No-Build New Start vs. TSM
Incremental Cost per Incremental Passenger $2.90 N/A

Values reflect 2020 ridership forecast and 1995 dollars.

Transit-Supportive Existing Land Use and Future Patterns

Rating: Medium

The Medical Center Extension is rated Medium to reflect existing transit-supportive conditions, improving policies, and proposed new developments within the corridor. Existing development in the 2.5 mile corridor is generally centered around the two ends of the proposed project. Downtown, at the western end, contains a mix of densely developed commercial, office, and government land uses, and a new baseball stadium. The eastern end of the corridor contains a high concentration of medical facilities that includes seven hospitals and two colleges/universities. These two clusters of development provide strong activity centers at both the western and eastern portions of the proposed project. Development towards the center of the proposed corridor currently consists of primarily vacant and underutilized commercial and industrial uses. However, several new developments are underway or proposed directly along the proposed transit project. Employment in the core of the downtown area is expected to grow from 15,366 in 1995 to 24,008 in 2020, a 56 percent increase. Population is expected to grow in the corridor by 400 percent over the same time period. The Medical Center is a major employment center with 13,650 employees in the core area in 1995; however growth in medical center employment is expected to be low.

The City of Memphis and Shelby County have developed a joint Balanced Growth Policy. The policy emphasizes growth of the tax base by encouraging the revitalization and retention of households within existing city limits, encouraging new development to occur within city limits, the annexation of areas on the fringe of the city limits, and an orderly plan of growth beyond the city limits. The Memphis Regional Transit Plan identified proposed station sites in three additional regional transit corridors that have market potential for new development. The city and county are considering plans to reduce parking supply along the corridor.

Local Financial Commitment

Proposed Non-Section 5309 Share of Total Project Costs: 20%

MATA proposes a 80 percent Federal share of $24.3 million in Section 5309 New Start funds. The financial plan includes $3.0 million in State funds (10 percent) and $3.0 million in local funds (10 percent).

Stability and Reliability of Capital Financing Plan

Rating: High

The High capital finance rating reflects the demonstrated commitment of state and local funding sources to the project. The local share of capital costs for the proposed project is funded through general obligation bonds supported by the City of Memphis. The City has a high grade of bond ratings on indebtedness. Additional non-Federal capital funding will be provided by the Tennessee Department of Transportation. Both sources are considered stable, and are committed to the Medical Center Extension project.

Stability and Reliability of Operating Finance Plan

Rating: Medium-High

The project’s Medium-High operating finance rating is based primarily on the City of Memphis’ demonstrated commitment to increasing its financial support for transit operations. MATA proposes that operating costs for the project will be covered through passenger fares and State and local sources. The City of Memphis is the largest single source of operating revenue for MATA, providing over 43 percent of total operating revenues. As Federal operating assistance has declined, the City increased its transit operating subsidy by 160 percent between the years 1980 and 1997. Approximately 35 percent of systemwide operating revenues are generated at the farebox. Operating costs for the Medical Center Rail Extension are expected to add approximately $1.1 million (1995) to the system operating costs; however, MATA estimates that a reduction in bus miles due to turned-back routes as a result of the new trolley service will essentially offset the cost of operating rail service in the corridor.

Locally Proposed Financing Plan

(Reported in $1995)

Proposed Source of Funds Total Funding
Appropriations to Date
Federal: Section 5309 New Starts $24.30 $7.93 million appropriated through FY 1999
State: $3.04 N/A
Local: $3.04 N/A
Total: $30.40

Note: Funding proposal reflects assumptions made by project sponsors, and are not DOT or FTA assumptions. Totals may not add due to rounding.

[Medical Center Extension Map (PDF)]

Commitment to Accessibility: DOT is committed to ensuring that information is available in appropriate alternative formats to meet the requirements of persons who have a disability. If you require an alternative version of files provided on this page, please contact