- Associated Press - Friday, April 25, 2014

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) - The heads of the U.S. Department of Transportation and Environmental Protection Agency toured Memphis on Friday to review results of federal investments aimed at improving housing and transportation options, protecting the environment and building stronger regional economies.

Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx, EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy and Housing and Urban Development Southeast Regional Administrator Ed Jennings hopped on a bus with media and local dignitaries to visit projects funded by the Partnership for Sustainable Communities in Memphis, one of the poorest large cities in the country.

The federal agencies have coordinated on more than $130 million in investments in the Memphis area through the Partnership for Sustainable Communities and $4 billion throughout the country.

Investments in Memphis include programs to address negative effects of urban sprawl and automobile dependence on inner-city neighborhoods, improve infrastructure and spur development near Memphis International Airport, and help river ports deal with effects of severe weather.

They also include $6 million from HUD for a $175 million project to refurbish the massive, but empty, Sears Crosstown tower and create a mixed-use “urban village” around it.

The tour included an overview of investments at the Harahan Bridge, which will convert an old automobile bridge into a walking and biking trail connecting Tennessee and Arkansas. They also visited a FedEx facility, the up-and-coming Broad Street business corridor and the Legends Park West housing development.

The $107 million affordable housing development was built at the site of the former Dixie Homes, a dilapidated housing project torn down to make room for 345 new single-family homes. McCarthy noted Legends Park West - which is supported by a HUD Hope VI grant - has solar panels on the roofs of homes and Energy Star products inside them.

“This is what you call sustainability,” McCarthy said at a news conference at the housing development.

U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Memphis, and Mayor A C Wharton Jr., both lobbied their guests from Washington for even more federal investment to help with transportation, business development and housing.

Cohen said Memphis could serve as a “laboratory” for federal projects.

“We don’t really see getting much help out of Nashville,” Cohen said, in reference to the Republican-controlled state Legislature. “It just turned red and they’ve cut off the fountain.”

Jennings took the tour in place of HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan, who was scheduled to attend but did not make the trip.

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