published Wednesday, April 10th, 2013

Fort Oglethorpe City Council OKs LaFayette Road Master Plan

Chickamauga Battlefield Visitor Center
Chickamauga Battlefield Visitor Center
Photo by Tim Barber /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

When James Thompson first visited Gettysburg, Pa., he was struck by how so much of the small city related to Gettysburg Battlefield.

"Everything in Gettysburg is about that park and that experience," Thompson said.

"Very little in Fort Oglethorpe is about [Chickamauga Battlefield] and about that experience," he said. "Personally, I think Chickamauga is no less important [than the Battle of Gettysburg]."

Those are some reasons that Thompson, Georgia's state program manager for the Appalachian Regional Commission, has supported a planning effort to fix up the stretch of LaFayette Road between the battlefield entrance and Battlefield Parkway.

The Fort Oglethorpe City Council approved the LaFayette Road Master Plan at a recent meeting.

It calls for changes such as putting islands with landscaping and trees at intervals in the center lane of what's now the five-lane LaFayette Road, reducing much of it to four lanes while maintaining space between the islands so vehicles can turn.

Bicycles would share the two extrawide outside lanes with cars and trucks.

An earlier version of the plan called for a separate bike path, but cyclists who visit Chickamauga Battlefield would rather share a lane, said William Shealy, a project manager with the Chattanooga office of The Jaeger Co., which put the plan together for the city.

"They don't really prefer to be on a separate path," Shealy said.

The plan calls for streetlights on the curb, an 8-foot-wide sidewalk and an outer strip of landscaping and trees.

Several "pocket parks" are called for, including one to commemorate Cloud Spring, a Union field hospital. The original spring has been covered up, but water from it flows from a concrete pipe into a basin next to Joy Carpets' parking lot on LaFayette Road.

A new downtown

Fixing up the stretch of road would help give Fort Oglethorpe, which was incorporated in 1949, a sort of downtown near the historic Army post, Thompson said.

"The situation with Fort Oglethorpe is that ... they don't have what I would call a downtown," he said.

The plan breaks the $2.5 million project into six phases that can be funded separately.

The city may be able to get money from the Appalachian Regional Commission to help pay for the work, Thompson said.

"We would like to work with them on improving that corridor, and ARC has the funding to do that," he said.

Jeff Epperson opened his knife shop, Classic Blades, in 2008 on the stretch of LaFayette Road, and city officials were talking then about sprucing up the area.

"I am excited they passed it," Epperson said of council's approval of the plan.

Thompson had hoped the city could make improvements in time for the Battle of Chickamauga's 150th anniversary in September.

"I'd really hoped we could get this all in place before the 150th celebration," Thompson said. "I'm not at all sure that can be done."

Epperson said some of the pocket parks might be ready in time for the anniversary.

about Tim Omarzu...

Tim Omarzu covers education for the Times Free Press. Omarzu is a longtime journalist who has worked as a reporter and editor at daily and weekly newspapers in Michigan, Nevada and California.

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