As details emerge on a Central Avenue expansion, Lincoln Park residents say they aren't happy

photo A connection is being considered on Central Avenue through to Riverfront Parkway in order to make access to Erlanger hospital easier from Riverfront Parkway.
photo The highlighted route is the lead alternative for an extension of Central Avenue to Riverside Drive. However, an environmental impact study of the shaded area won't be complete until this summer. Results of that study could affect the location of the extension.

CENTRAL AVENUE EXTENSION* Early Summer 2014 -- Finalize NEPA technical studies* Midsummer 2014 -- Public meeting to present NEPA findings* Fall 2014 -- Complete NEPA documents select preferred alternative, begin final design* Spring 2015 -- Right of way design completion* Fall 2015 -- Right of way acquisition completion* Spring 2016 -- Road construction begins (18-24 month duration)Source: City of ChattanoogaABOUT LINCOLN PARKLincoln Park was a popular gathering place for blacks during segregation. The park hosted Negro League baseball games where players such as Jackie Robinson, Willie Mays and Satchel Paige played.

The controversial Central Avenue extension is proposed to come within eight feet of a historic black neighborhood park.

"The road basically will be where there is a parking lot as far as any activities in the park," said Tiffany Rankins, secretary of the Lincoln Park Neighborhood Association. "It's like [the city] taking away the parking area over at Warner Park or Coolidge Park and just giving them a field."

This week, Rankins and other Lincoln Park residents learned new details about the Central Avenue extension project, which would ease access to Erlanger hospital and connect to Riverside Drive.

City transportation officials say the preferred route includes two lanes of traffic and a roundabout, features designed to slow traffic near what will become a restored park. Mayor Andy Berke pledged seven months ago to acquire the land and restore the park that dates back 100 years.

Residents of the Lincoln Park community wanted answers about the park promised to them. The city has proposed to swap about eight acres of land in Alton Park to Erlanger Health System in exchange for the five-acre park.

Consultants told them the city was advised not to complete the swap until the environmental study, known as the National Environmental Policy Act, or NEPA, is complete.

Jumping the gun could cost the city $5.9 million in federal funding for the road project, said Scott Niesen, vice president of Nashville-based Ragan Smith, a consulting firm for the city.

"The community wants the park. The city wants the road. Erlanger wants the road and no one wants to lose the federal funding," Niesen told several residents. "If the federal funding goes away, I don't know what would happen."

Erlanger officials say they are still committed to swapping property but are waiting for the green light from the city.

Berke's spokeswoman Lacie Stone said the city attorney's office is taking into consideration the NEPA process, but if the city can move forward before the study is complete, officials plan to do so.

"It could be six months, eight months, a year, we don't have a time frame," Stone said.

Extension alternatives

The proposed extension resulted from an ongoing environmental impact study and concerns of nearby Lincoln Park residents.

City officials researched at least 10 routes before focusing on the latest alternative that appears to address environmental and neighborhood concerns.

Traffic experts expect to complete the impact study by this summer, before the city begins to acquire rights of way for the project. The final route extension still could change, depending on additional technical studies.

Some of the other routes cut straight through Lincoln Park and were not considered for that reason, Stone said. Some of the other routes would have adversely affected the Tennessee American Water Co. plant, Siskin Hospital for Physical Rehabilitation and the Chattanooga School for the Arts and Sciences.

One of the more direct routes officials examined would have had the road cutting through the Cumberland Corp.'s parking lot before connecting to Riverside Drive. The city's Transportation Director Blythe Bailey said that property is eligible for the National Register of Historic Places.

Officials say they hope to have a finalized road proposal by midsummer to show the community. If all goes as planned, the road could be complete by 2018.

Staff writer Kate Harrison contributed to this article.

Contact staff writer Joy Lukachick at or 423-757-6659.