Chattanooga pursuing grant for fixes to Wilcox Tunnel - again

Chattanooga pursuing grant for fixes to Wilcox Tunnel - again

April 19th, 2014 by Kevin Hardy in Local Regional News

Cars pass through the Wilcox Tunnel on Friday. Chattanooga has applied for a $27 million federal grant to help fund a project to build a second tunnel through Missionary Ridge and use each tunnel for one-way traffic.

Photo by Doug Strickland/Times Free Press.

Site of Wilcox Tunnel in Chattanooga.

Photo by Laura McNutt/Times Free Press.

One more try.

Chattanooga will again seek a multimillion-dollar federal grant to replace the narrow and crumbling Wilcox Tunnel.

On Tuesday, the City Council will vote on whether to apply for the $27 million grant, which would require a local match of $25 million. The city has applied for similar grants at least twice before.

"We are hoping that the third time will be the charm," council member Moses Freeman said. "It is very much needed. It's a main artery in and out of downtown Chattanooga."

City officials have long wrangled with how to fix the Wilcox Tunnel problem. The two-lane tunnel has water leakage problems, ventilation issues and has no room for pedestrians or bicyclists to traverse from one end to the other.

Freeman said the tunnel has been a safety hazard for decades. And it needs to get fixed with or without this grant.

"It's been in deplorable shape for years and years and years," he said. "It was dangerous back in the '60s. It hasn't improved. It's continually gotten worse. As the car population has increased, that's also been a factor in the deterioration of the tunnel."

The tunnel was completed in 1931, according to newspaper archives. In 2005, the city spent $125,000 to fix leaks, fill cracks and close the pedestrian walkway in the tunnel.

Under the current proposal, the city would create a new eastbound tunnel that includes two lanes and convert the existing tunnel to a single westbound lane. The TIGER grant is a program of the United States Department of Transportation.

After last year's grant was denied, the city made some limited improvements to the tunnel. Crews used gaskets to relieve many of the water flow and leakage issues, said city spokeswoman Lacie Stone. In October, Mayor Andy Berke and other city officials went door-to-door in neighborhoods around the tunnel to gather input on tunnel improvements.

The biggest concerns residents had related to lighting, water flow, access and cleanliness, Stone said.

"So in addition to applying for the TIGER grant," Stone said, "we are also looking at cost-effective and implementable ways we can address the top priorities of the citizens who use the tunnel the most."

Contact staff writer Kevin Hardy at khardy@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6249.