A long-awaited thoroughfare from Central Avenue to Riverside Drive could be coming closer to reality.
The Chattanooga City Council is expected to vote on a resolution tonight authorizing $780,000 in city money to be spent on the project with state and federal agencies putting in another $3.1 million.
"That's a good spend," said Council Chairwoman Pam Ladd. "We'd more than make our money back from the potential development. It's a good investment."
The city is in the beginning stages of the project and must conduct an environmental study and acquire rights of way, which are currently owned by Erlanger hospital and Cannon Equipment, said Assistant City Engineer Dennis Malone. The earliest a shovel hits the dirt "would be fall of next year," he said, then it would take about a year to complete.
One goal of the extension, which would allow access to and from Riverside Drive and Amnicola Highway onto Central, would be to relieve traffic flow in the area, said Councilman Manny Rico. But most importantly, it would help improve emergency service times because ambulances and other emergency services would be able to get to Erlanger hospital more quickly, he said.
"It really is needed for safety issues and it could save lives," Rico said. "How do you put a price on that?"
Malone said the new road would extend Central Avenue about one-third of a mile, and a bridge also must be built over Citico Creek.
Richard Brown, chancellor for the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, said the school met with city officials a few weeks ago and received an update on the construction project. Extending Central would be a big help to the school, he said.
"It will offload a lot of traffic that currently comes into UTC," he said.
UTC's only concern is that, in the project, Central Avenue between McCallie Avenue and Third Street must be widened, Brown said, and the school does not want the Fort Wood neighborhood, which sits next to Central, to be disrupted.
Brown said the city assured him that would not happen.
"Short term, they really didn't see that happening," he said. "But long term, who knows?"