Central Avenue extension to change downtown Chattanooga traffic patterns

Central Avenue extension to change downtown Chattanooga traffic patterns

November 5th, 2011 by Ellis Smith in News

Plans are under way for an extension of Central Avenue to Riverside Drive. The roadway is slated to begin construction in the summer of 2012. Central Avenue (seen at upper left) would continue northward to Riverside Drive.

Photo by Tracey Trumbull/Times Free Press.

A long-planned extension of Central Avenue to Amnicola Highway finally may become a reality in 2012, Chattanooga officials say.

Heavy construction should begin by summer, and the $5.9 million project could be done by the end of 2012, said Dan Thornton, manager of real property for Chattanooga.

The extension, which is 80 percent federally funded and 20 percent funded by the city, "is a great deal for the city," Thornton said.

The idea is to draw cars away from the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga and over to Amnicola Highway on a road extension that will run north past Erlanger hospital, crossing Citico Creek.

"If you put a shovel in the ground summer next year, it's going to relieve a lot of traffic," he said.

Richard Brown, vice chancellor of finance and operations at UTC, said the project would help transform the campus into a more pedestrian-friendly area and help planners upgrade the property.

It also helps motorists avoid the awkward right turn from Third Street to Riverfront Parkway, forcing drivers to quickly bear left before turning right, he said.

"We're excited about this connector, given the fact that it diverts an awful lot of traffic away from the heart of the university," Brown said. "It also creates a nice, viable traffic flow for all residents of the city."

As UTC builds more residence halls in the near future, fewer cars on the road could make certain properties more viable for student living that weren't an option before, he said.

"In our master plan, we are looking at a lot of possibilities in that area," Brown said.

The Central Avenue extension is the first phase of a multiyear plan that includes widening the road from end to end, pulling cars from other arteries and allowing easy access to Interstate 24, according to Melissa Taylor, director for strategic long-range planning at the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Regional Planning Agency.

"This is the first piece of a bigger project," Taylor said.

After the first $5.9 million extension is complete, planners want to widen the road from Third Street to Interstate 24, which would cost an additional $30 million. In its final phase, the city will increase the road width all the way to the Georgia state line, which is projected to cost $39.9 million, Taylor said.

"Part of the problem with transportation projects sometimes is that the idea or proposal is very large, and it can sometimes make it difficult to implement the project because of the cost," she said. "So one of the things to come out of this study was to identify the segments and break the project into the pieces."