Three Southeast Tennessee towns are divvying up more than $1 million for nontraditional downtown transportation improvement projects for pedestrians and cyclists, according to officials.
Benton, Decatur and Pikeville were awarded funding through the Tennessee Department of Transportation this week for projects to make it easier to get around by foot and on bike, officials said. The grants, which also will help pay for other downtown beautification projects, require a 20 percent local match.
Pikeville received the lion's share of funding regionally -- $596,056 -- for work to extend a major ongoing downtown facelift and eventually connect the courthouse square with the state Highway 30 bypass on the west side of town, Mayor Greg Johnson said.
The money will fund work from Grove Street, two blocks from the courthouse, to Wheeler Avenue to total about 1,600 linear feet of sidewalk, new lighting, landscaping and signs, Johnson said.
The work continues the design of Pikeville's downtown beautification project through Main Street's business district, he said.
"Plans call for ending at Wheeler [Avenue]," Johnson said, "but we're going to see how far we can go toward the bypass."
"It'll be useful for people who are walking downtown," Pike-ville resident Rebecca Sweet said Thursday as she pushed her 3-year-old daughter, Lakota, in a stroller through bumpy gravel along a section of Spring Street that lacks a sidewalk.
Sweet said she was headed to Main Street "where there's sidewalks and shade."
"And dogs," exclaimed Lakota.
Decatur received $261,541 to fund construction of new paths for pedestrians and bicycles along School Drive and River Road, City Recorder Laura Smith said. A retaining wall and drainage improvements are included in the work, she said.
"This is Phase II of a sidewalk plan that the town has had for several years," Smith said, noting Phase I's work downtown is nearly complete.
"This one basically connects a public housing complex on one end and goes to River Road," she said.
The route connects pedestrians and cyclists to several local services including the Southeast Tennessee Human Resources Agency, the health department, Agricultural Extension office, a grocery store and the senior center, she said.
"We don't see grants like this often, and we're very appreciative of it," she said.
A $155,398 slice of the funding will pay for new about 2,700 linear feet of sidewalks in Benton from downtown to Chilhowee Middle and Benton Elementary schools on Patty Road, Mayor Jerry Stephens said.
The two schools have about 1,200 students "all right there together," Stephens said. "They've never had sidewalks from town up to the schools."
Sidewalks will be built on Patty Road and part of Main Street and from the middle school to U.S. Highway 411, he said.
A state widening project on Highway 411 completed a few years back included new sidewalks, he noted.
"We are very proud to get this," Stephens said.