Central Avenue extension plans continue amid Lincoln Park opposition

This image from Ragan-Smith Associates shows the conceptual plan of the proposed extension of Central Avenue to Riverside Drive.
photo Lincoln Park resident Wiley Morton, right, voices concerns about the proposed Central Avenue connection to Riverside Parkway with Chattanooga Department of Transportation Administrator Blythe Bailey during a recent meeting.

The long-awaited project to connect Central Avenue directly to Riverside Drive could break ground in the fall of 2018 despite continued objections from Lincoln Park residents who say the project will hurt their historic neighborhood.

The plans say the new road would increase access to Riverside drive, improve emergency vehicle response times and provide additional pedestrian and bicycle access to the Tennessee Riverwalk area.

But Lincoln Park residents' opposition is unabated despite tweaks to the plan after public input over the last few years.

Residents' fears and frustrations resurfaced in a recent meeting with Chattanooga Department of Transportation representatives. The neighborhood is bounded by Erlanger hospital, the railroad overpass, Third Street and Riverside Drive.

"This is the gateway to the beginning towards exterminating the community here, doing away with it," neighborhood association secretary Tiffany Rankins said, citing the historical importance of the neighborhood.

Rankins presented a letter sent by Dr. Carroll Van West of the Middle Tennessee State University Center for Historic Preservation on the matter.

"Lincoln Park is historic and significant," Van West's letter stated. It questioned prior research used to determine the neighborhood's ineligibility for the National Register of Historic Places.

"Our research to date finds this preliminary determination to be based on incomplete research, and thus the assessment may be incorrect," Van West said, citing three visits to the Lincoln Park community. "A wide range of scholarship over the last generation has emphasized the significance of place-making in African-American history and culture."

He described Lincoln Park as a place where Chattanooga blacks were "given a sliver of opportunity in the harsh Jim Crow times of the early 20th century" to build a "place of recreation, sport and identity."

Other residents said they felt their input did not matter and the process amounted to a formality for decisions already made to cut through the community.

Several of the 40 people attending the meeting agreed, but DOT administrator Blythe Bailey said that's not what happened. He said public input led to changes that included reducing the original four-lane road to two lanes, employing traffic-calming design and redeveloping the community's public park.

"I believe that our streets should be safe," Bailey said. "They should be friendly for all people, they should be good for neighborhoods. They should be comfortable to walk on, they should be comfortable to bike on and they should be comfortable and safe to drive on."

Central Avenue now ends where it intersects Blackford Street and Cleveland Avenue, adjacent to Erlanger hospital and Lincoln Park.

Plans for the extension call for extending Central Avenue to a T-junction with Wiehl Street, creating the northwest boundary for the park. From there, the roadway curves until it reaches Riverside Drive. On the the way there, it crosses under railway lines, cuts through Norfolk Southern property and takes a bridge over Citico Creek.

The plan features a path for foot and bike traffic, pedestrian crossings, grass buffers, street trees and on-street parking.

"I believe this project is very important for the entire community, because it creates a very important connection," Bailey said.

Several residents said they flat-out do not want the project to happen and questioned why it had to happen to their neighborhood.

But engineering consultant Scott Niesen said Lincoln Park is the best, most logical location.

"As you know, we've looked extensively through this entire area to try to find a connection that also satisfies the need for the project," Nielsen said. "I don't think we've stopped short."

This spring, Lincoln Park residents challenged a planned Erlanger area development and requested protection against what they described as the "aggressive gentrification" of the neighborhood.

Contact staff writer Paul Leach at 423-757-6481 or pleach@timesfreepress.com. Follow on Twitter @pleach_tfp.